Some presidents make the history books by managing crises. Lincoln had Fort Sumter, Roosevelt had the Depression and Pearl Harbor, and Kennedy had the missiles in Cuba. George W. Bush, of course, had Sept. 11, and for a while thereafter — through the overthrow of the Taliban — he earned his page in history, too.
But when historians look back at the Bush presidency, they’re more likely to note that what sets Bush apart is not the crises he managed but the crises he fabricated. The fabricated crisis is the hallmark of the Bush presidency. To attain goals that he had set for himself before he took office — the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, the privatization of Social Security — he concocted crises where there were none…
…In fact, Social Security is on a sounder footing now than it has been for most of its 70-year history. Without altering any of its particulars, its trustees say, it can pay full benefits straight through 2042. Over the next 75 years its shortfall will amount to just 0.7 percent of national income, according to the trustees, or 0.4 percent, according to the Congressional Budget Office. That still amounts to a real chunk of change, but it pales alongside the 75-year cost of Bush’s Medicare drug benefit, which is more than twice its size, or Bush’s tax cuts if permanently extended, which would be nearly four times its size.
In short, Social Security is not facing a financial crisis at all. It is facing a need for some distinctly sub-cataclysmic adjustments over the next few decades that would increase its revenue and diminish its benefits.
Politically, however, Social Security is facing the gravest crisis it has ever known. For the first time in its history, it is confronted by a president, and just possibly by a working congressional majority, who are opposed to the program on ideological grounds, who view the New Deal as a repealable aberration in U.S. history, who would have voted against establishing the program had they been in Congress in 1935. But Bush doesn’t need Karl Rove’s counsel to know that repealing Social Security for reasons of ideology is a non-starter.
So it’s time once more to fabricate a crisis. In Bushland, it’s always time to fabricate a crisis. We have a crisis in medical malpractice costs, though the CBO says that malpractice costs amount to less than 2 percent of total health care costs. (In fact, what we have is a president who wants to diminish the financial, and thus political, clout of trial lawyers.) We have a crisis in judicial vacancies, though in fact Senate Democrats used the filibuster to block just 10 of Bush’s 229 first-term judicial appointments….
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