Mark Schmitt's got one of those posts that make all the bloggers breathlessly beg you to stop what you're doing and dive into his site. So imagine my heaving bosom (look to the upper right for a pictorial aid) as I send you over to his place to find out what the Social Security debate is really about. For those with a lazy clicker-finger, suffice to say that privatization isn't about advancing any particular Republican philosophy, but destroying the Democratic one.
Mark doesn't quite go as far as I will here, but privatization probably won't end up that popular. All other countries that've tried it have found a mixed bag at best, and many have looked down to find their sack filled with manure and lit aflame. But if privatization does crash and burn, that's not going to hurt Republicans at all. The boomerang is going to whip back and smack Democrats in the head as irritated pensioners shake their heads and mutter about how the doggone government can't do anything right.
This is something I spoke about yesterday, but to put it in more concrete terms, Democrats want to wage policy battles. We argue in order to promote or destroy specific programs. Republicans take a much more foundational view and enter these fights intent on boosting or demolishing a philosophy. When they went after Clinton's health care program, they did so believing that its passage would be a triumph for the Democratic conception of the government while its defeat would open the door to a revived antitax, antigovernment movement. It would, in essence, make or break the foundations of the sides involved, which made it, for them, much more than just a legislative battle.
Social Security is the logical continuation of that attack. After denying liberalism its ultimate victory, their campaign has reached its logical conclusion -- destroying its foundations. Whether privatization works great and glorifies the free market (ha!) or simply collapses in on itself and proves bureaucratic incompetence, Republicans win the battle because the positive view Democrats take towards government is undermined. That's why, in this fight, there's no substitute for success. Compromising on Social Security is selling out the Democratic philosophy of governance, not being a bipartisan legislator.
As for the inevitable swipe at me and my party of "no"; give me a break. Social Security isn't broken, nor anywhere near it. We need to raise the payroll cap, roll back some tax cuts, shift the retirement age (I'm personally not in favor of that, but nevertheless), or otherwise divert some general fund revenue in order to shore up the system. This whole idea that simple solvency plans aren't an adequate response is absurd -- it's like criticizing someone who needs their radiator fixed for bringing their car into the mechanic rather than mortgaging their house in order to purchase a plane.