Following the 2004 election, President Bush launched an effort to reform Social Security. It has been an article of faith for conservatives since Barry Goldwater wrote “The Conscience Of A Conservative” that Social Security is destined to failure. Goldwater’s position was particularly courageous, given that insolvency was still decades away.
Bush knew that the future obligations of Social Security would far outstrip ability to pay with millions of baby boomers beginning to retire in the next few years. As those boomers retire, the spending obligations will drive our country further and further into unfathomable debt. It’s not like we can’t see this coming. When Social Security was created, there were literally dozens of workers paying into the system for every person receiving benefits. That ratio is now three workers for each retiree and it will soon be two workers per retiree.
Unfortunately, Democrats have used the scare tactic of Republicans wanting to destroy Social Security in every election since 1964, making substantive reform politically impossible. There is a reason Social Security has been called the third rail of politics.
So it was very interesting when, in his final press conference, Bush said, “I believe that running the Social Security idea right after the ’04 elections was a mistake. I should have argued for immigration reform.”
Consider how different that last four years would have been had Bush pushed for immigration reform right after the 2004 election. First, Bush had a strong showing at the polls on Election Day 2004, so while he may not have had a “mandate” he clearly was in a strong position to push an agenda. In fact, pundits figured he had enough mojo to push Social Security reform.
Had Bush picked immigration reform, conservatives would have had a larger role in crafting the bill, and avoided some of the most divisive rhetoric that has created so much angst among party faithful.
Democrats would have been much more likely to work with Bush on immigration reform than on Social Security, and giving Bush a success on a bipartisan issue.
And, how would that have changed the overall make-up of the Presidential race? I’d venture to speculate that had Bush successfully shepherded immigration reform through Congress, the tone in Washington would have been much different, and we would not have had Obama even in the primary. It is clear that the anti-Bush crowd was the driver on Obama, and had that been tempered, we may have seen a McCain/Clinton general and it would be McCain getting sworn in as the 44th President on Tuesday.
This is the kind of mental exercise that makes me wish I could see the parallel universe.