Bush is the Wrong Person to Sell Private Accounts
As I have indicated earlier on these pages, I am open to the possibility that private accounts may be a good change to Social Security. One thing that I am fairly certain about is that Bush is the wrong messenger.
Now, let me make it clear that I am not trying to make some sort of moralistic statement about whether Bush should be able to pass the Social Security changes he wants. I am saying that he won't be able to fundamentally change Social Security, and I have a pretty good idea which facts about Bush and his administration are holding him back.
First of all, let us consider what might be called intellectual credibility, that is to say Bush is not widely perceived as someone who can understand, not to mention explain, complex topics like Social Security. Yes, I realize that by casting aspersions on his intellect I am inviting someone to call me an arrogant liberal who is in denial of the fact that he just won a majority of the popular vote. Bush won, however, because of his moral credibility with the bulk of the American public. I don't really understand why people feel this way, but I am fairly certain that it is the basis of his appeal.
Note that convincing people that Social Security is in crisis is far different from convincing people that Bush's solution is the best. Suppose that he is right and Social Security is a ticking time bomb. Who would you rather have defuse a time bomb: a dear friend with whom you would ordinarily "trust with your life" or someone who appears to know how bombs work? In Bush's case, this friend would be someone who is constantly bumbling his words, saying "red wire" when he means "black wire," etc. Not very reassuring.
The other problem with Bush is the fact that the stock markets, which rose dramatically under Clinton (the Dow Jones almost quadrupled), have been flat (DJ) or fallen (S&P) during the Bush years. There are two things that you might infer from this fact. One is that the stock market is unpredictable. The oft-cited fact that we were attacked on 9/11/2001 does nothing to allay this concern. If it happened once, it can happen again. Another, more questionable inference one might make is that Bush does not know how to manage the economy (or find people who know how). No matter how strongly you may disagree with the second point, it doesn't change the first.
As I said, I have not made up my mind about private accounts, and I wish we could have an intelligent national discussion about them. Alas, this would be a faint possibility under any circumstances. Bush's flaws as a salesman make it even less likely.