Kinsley: Bush Gets B+ for Honesty, Even Courage

Michael Kinsley, long a favorite of mine among liberal pundits, once again demonstrates why in his LAT editorial “Bush Gets B for Honesty, Even Courage, on Social Security.”

Bush’s rebuff to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist was superb. The people who oppose his judgeship nominees aren’t prejudiced against religion, he said. They do it because they have a different “judicial philosophy.”


Then it got even better. Starting with the cliche that in America you can “worship any way you want,” Bush plunged gratuitously into a declaration that “if you choose not to worship, you’re equally as patriotic as somebody who does worship.” How long has it been, in this preacher-spooked nation, since a politician, let alone the president, has spoken out in defense of nonbelievers?


Above all, Bush was honest and even courageous about Social Security. Social Security is about writing checks: Money goes in, money goes out. As Bush has discovered in the last few months, there are no shadows to hide in while you fiddle with it. The problem is fewer and fewer workers supporting more and more retirees, and there are only two possible solutions: Someone has to pay more in, and/or someone has to take less out.


Even more to Bush’s credit, the plan he’s backing is highly progressive. Benefits for low- income workers would keep rising with average wages, as now, but benefits for middle- and high-income people would be geared more toward merely keeping up with inflation. This allows Bush to say that no one’s benefits would be cut, although some people would be getting up to 40% less than they are currently promised. But in the swamp of Social Security politics, that is really minimal protection from the alligators.

So Democrats now face a choice: Are they going to be alligators on this one? Why Bush has taken this on remains a mystery. There is no short-term political advantage, and there are other real long-term problems that are more pressing. But he has done it, to his credit.

As I noted in my assessment of the press conference, “[I]f Bill Clinton had made this proposal, conservatives would almost surely be crying ‘Socialism!'” Kinsley provides the other side of that coin: Had Clinton made this proposal, the Democrats would be gushing in praise at his brilliance. Kinsley passes the Honest Democrat test here. (Honest Democrats can find much to criticize in Bush’s plan. But progressivity ain’t it.)

Like Michelle Malkin, I disagree with what some of Kinsley writes here (and a great deal of what he’s written elsewhere). But he’s worth reading because he usually gets beyond the Democratic talking points.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.