Fixing self-made problems
In the State of the Union speech, President Bush takes aim at fixable problems that he helped create
Thursday, February 03, 2005
By his proposals, if not exactly by the words he used Wednesday, President Bush told Americans something most of them already know: The state of the Union could be better.
The president laid out some of his agenda to address two of our most pressing concerns -- the war in Iraq and the future of the Social Security system without really acknowledging that both of them are, by and large, problems of our own creation.
In Iraq, of course, the president launched a war that now everyone knows was based on false strategic premises. Everyone knows, too -- or should know -- that the administration miscalculated as to the military situation in Iraq. It also failed to correctly assess the forces in Iraqi society that would come into play after the destruction of Saddam Hussein's regime.
Those failures do not relieve the United States of the responsibility for building a new society in Iraq that is capable of serving the aspirations of the Iraqi people.
The fact that Iraqis did not pour into the streets to greet their allied liberators, as some in the administration once suggested they might, does not mean Iraq and the world will not be better off with a humane regime in place. Whatever else has been done, and whatever miscalculations now seem obvious, the successful conducting of Sunday's elections was a real victory for Bush, the United States and, most importantly, the Iraqis. The elections offer hope that a better future remains possible.
"Why weren't Iraqis dancing in the streets on the day Saddam Hussein fell, critics have asked sneeringly. Some Iraqis, the young and more reckless, did dance. Others, I suspect, were too scared, waiting to see how things turned out. Would the United States leave them hanging as in 1991? Would it leave behind a 'moderate' Baathist thug in its place?
"Nearly 22 months later, Iraqis seemed convinced that there would indeed be a new day. And that is when the dancing started--voters dancing and singing and celebrating, thrusting into the air their ink-stained fingers, symbol of their initiation into democracy. It was an undeniable, if delayed, feeling of liberation."
The other big topic was Social Security. "Fixing Social Security permanently will require an open, candid review of the options," the president said. "I will work with members of Congress to find the most effective combination of reforms."
Maybe that means Bush will be more flexible than he started out to be. He is right about one thing: The system really does need to be fixed now, and not later, as many of Bush's Democratic opponents suggest.
In something as complicated as Social Security, you can never know for sure what the limits are to any politician's flexibility. But Bush's words Wednesday suggested that the range of policy choices he'll endorse are quite limited.
It's possible to fix what ails Social Security without turning it on its ear. Relatively minor benefit cuts or relatively minor tax increases, or a combination of the two, would put the program on a sound actuarial footing.
The president's proposal for diverting some Social Security taxes into voluntary personal investment accounts relies too heavily on rosy economic scenarios and fiscal practices that have the nation facing deficits as far into the future as anyone can reasonably see.
There is merit in the idea that the United States must become an "ownership" society in order to best face the economic future. But there are, it is clear, ways to promote that without jeopardizing the basic social insurance benefit on which Americans have come to rely in their old age.
October 2004 November 2004 December 2004 January 2005 February 2005 March 2005 April 2005 May 2005 June 2005 July 2005 August 2005 September 2005 October 2005 November 2005 December 2005 January 2006 February 2006 March 2006 April 2006 May 2006 June 2006 July 2006 August 2006 September 2006 October 2006 November 2006 December 2006 January 2007 February 2007 March 2007 April 2007 May 2007 June 2007 July 2007 August 2007 September 2007 October 2007 November 2007 December 2007 January 2008 February 2008 March 2008 April 2008 May 2008 June 2008 July 2008 August 2008 September 2008 October 2008 November 2008 December 2008 January 2009 February 2009 March 2009 April 2009 May 2009 June 2009 July 2009 August 2009 September 2009 October 2009 November 2009 December 2009 January 2010 February 2010 March 2010 April 2010 May 2010 June 2010 July 2010 August 2010 September 2010 October 2010 November 2010 December 2010 January 2011 February 2011 March 2011 April 2011 May 2011 June 2011 July 2011 August 2011 September 2011 October 2011 December 2011 January 2012 February 2012 March 2012 April 2012 May 2012 June 2012 August 2012 September 2012 October 2012 November 2012 January 2013 February 2013 March 2013 May 2013 July 2013 September 2013 October 2013 November 2013 December 2013 January 2014 March 2014 April 2014 May 2014 June 2014 July 2014 August 2014 September 2014 October 2014 November 2014 December 2014 May 2015 September 2015 November 2015 December 2015 March 2016