Freedom From Fear

If you read nothing else today, make it Mark Schmitt's piece on merging the security theme Democrats are finding in Social Security with opportunity. I've been beating this drum for awhile (and others have been pounding on it long before me), but it couldn't be more important. The Democrats are currently trapped in a war of outdated critiques. Will we move towards an archaic populism that pretends we can stop outsourcing, or will we embrace a Republican-lite philosophy of corporate cronyism? We've apparently settled on a weird state between the two, and so we spend a few months after every election yelling at each other over the incoherence of our position.

There is, as Joe Klein would term it, an information age (or post-industrial) populism ready to be assumed by the first party to grab it. Better yet, it fits perfectly with the current priorities and crusades of the Democratic party. Simply put, the government exists to reduce risk to the worker so they have more freedom to take chances and seek success in the modern economy. That's why Americans need guaranteed Social Security, so they can take risks with other retirement savings. That's why they need government-assured health care, so they're not stuck in dead-end jobs that waste their talent and stifle their entrepreneurism because they're afraid of losing their medical coverage. That's why we need unemployment insurance, asset-building, universal day care, etc.

Not only does such a critique fit with the proposals we push and the programs we fight to save, it allows us to embrace the modern economy, embrace the spirit of entrepreneurship, embrace the innovation and ingenuity of ordinary Americans, and do so all in the context of a social net. ts steals a number of extremely potent economic themes from Republicans and recasts them as central portions of the Democratic program. And the fight over Social Security is the perfect place to start. Americans, after all, are perfectly aware of how much risk their lives contain. Let Republicans call it potential, nobody who's ever fallen ill will be fooled. So I'm perfectly willing to fight that war, inviting the right to deny the risk facing ordinary Americans and allowing us to offer protection from the vagaries of fate. If President Bush wants to promote risk in Social Security, we can promote security and the freedom that comes from it. And that is the only change I'd make to Mark's framing. it's not mere opportunity, it's freedom. The freedom to change jobs, to start businesses, to tempt fate. It's freedom from fear of economic downturn, and that's exactly what Social Security offers. Indeed, that's exactly what Democrats should be offering.

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