Mark Schmitt is a senior fellow and advisor to the president at the Roosevelt Institute, a New York-based think tank affiliated with the FDR Library. He is a former executive editor of The American Prospect.
Most liberals will open Senator Rick Santorum's new book, It Takes a Family, in the same spirit that we approach Dianetics or The Washingtonienne: looking for the outrageous parts. And while there's no entry for “man-on-dog” sex in the index -- apparently Santorum has thought better of his assertion last year that if the Supreme Court permitted overturned sodomy laws, such cross-species partnerships would be the next innovation in The New York Times' wedding pages -- there is enough to keep the opposition researchers at the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee busy faxing material to reporters in anticipation of Santorum's difficult race for re-election next year.
Someday soon, when it can no longer be denied that the Bush administration's effort to phase out Social Security is dead, the president might call his team into the Oval Ofﬁce for a postmortem. “What went wrong?” he'll ask. “I want complete honesty.” (Did I
mention that this conversation is ﬁctional?)
Fingers will be pointed: Senator Charles Grassley. Representative Bill Thomas. Democrats. AARP. An honest voice might note that the “experts” at the Cato Institute had 20 years to ﬁgure out the details and never did the work.
After a bit of this, a pudgy pink ﬁnger, appended to the hand of a celebrated political guru, will rise. The room will go quiet.
“Mr. President, we forgot how we got here in the ﬁrst place.”
The story of the Rise of the Right is the great fable in recent American politics, one that is endlessly revised as it is told and retold by its participants and by envious observers from the left bank. In recent versions, a central place in the story has been given to a memo written in 1971 by Richmond corporate lawyer (and future U.S. Supreme Court justice) Lewis Powell to a neighbor who was active in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Ever since it debuted at a conference of environmental funders in Hawaii shortly before the election, a report titled “The Death of Environmentalism” has been infuriating the legions of nonprofit professionals who make their living in the “green” world. And it is easy to see why. Starting with the report's cover, embossed with a Chinese ideogram that, according to a tiresome and incorrect management-consulting cliché, is composed of the symbols for danger and opportunity and means “crisis,” it is pompous, contemptuous, vague, New Age-y, contradictory, incomplete, and sometimes obviously wrong.
As the vague outlines of President Bush's Social Security privatization plan rise up in the mist ahead of us, a question naturally comes to mind: What did Democrats do the last time a conservative Republican president proposed massive changes to Social Security? That is, how did they fight back against Ronald Reagan in the early 1980s?
The answer, though, is sadly unhelpful. The Social Security debate of 1981-83 shows only one thing: The world sure was different back then.