The term "neoconservative" actually meant something a few years ago. Today it's a de facto synonym for anyone who's pro-war, but in its original context it typically described a disillusioned leftist, whom reality had forced to embrace a right-leaning pragmatism. This was usually characterized by a strident anti-communism and a recoiling against the excesses of the cultural left. Moreover, most neocons were still enamored of the New Deal and Great Society programs, and they never fully bought into the antistatist vein that characterized much of traditional conservatism.
William Kristol, the neocon's neocon, is showing his true colors. Once so fearless regarding Iraq, Kristol now has a case of the nervous Nellies when it comes to Social Security reform. Apparently, he's not the only one, either. Kristol is quoted by MSNBC as saying many Republicans are "bewildered why this is such a White House priority.... I am a skeptic politically and a little bit substantively."
The biggest jaw-dropper in the MSNBC piece, however, is a quote by Connecticut congressman Rob Simmons, which you have to read to believe:
Why stir up a political hornet's nest .... when there is no urgency? When does the program go belly up? 2042. I will be dead by then.
I know many people think like this, but the fact that a sitting congressman has the stones to admit it publicly is astonishing to me. If he were any more shortsighted on this issue, he'd be Paul Krugman. I suppose it's difficult to get a representative to look beyond the next election cycle, much less to the next generation, and that's why this fight will be an uphill climb.
I don't even know why I should have to explain this, but here goes. If you're lucky enough to live off a trust fund, and extrapolating current trends shows your trust fund will be depleted in a few decades, you do not wait until it is empty to take remedial action. It takes time to amass wealth and build equity.
Deep down, I think most people understand this. They're not stupid. Rather, I think Republicans are nervous because Democrats have clubbed them over the head with the Social Security issue for decades. I think the Democrats are nervous because private accounts would deprives Congress of a large chunk of taxpayer money to play with, and would also swell the ranks of the investor class, which tends to vote Republican in higher numbers than the population at large.
Neither of these reservations is grounded in the real issues, however, and that's a shame. We need an honest debate about this issue, and we need it now, not when the whole business goes belly-up.
This is certainly the best opportunity for private accounts we've ever faced, and it's very possible that such an opportunity won't come again. Republicans now control both houses of Congress and we have a Republican president who is not afraid to take political risks on the big issues. It's a chance not only to expand Bush's vision of an "ownership society," but our best chance for this administration to leave behind a genuinely conservative legacy.
Buck up, guys! Things worth doing are seldom easy.
UPDATE: Tom Maguire has been all over the Social Security debate hypocrisies.