With His "Plan" On "Life Support", Bush Cozies Up To FDR
Bush must be in trouble selling his privatization plan when he has to invoke the memory of FDR and speak favorably about Social Security. Today, in another one of his scripted appearances before a screened, handpicked Stepford crowd in Memphis, Bush tried once again to sell a crowd and Tennessee Democratic Representative Harold Ford Jr., at the same time. From Ford’s comments and those of conservative observers and economists, Bush failed.
"Franklin Roosevelt did a good thing when he set up Social Security. It has worked," Bush told an audience this morning in Memphis, Tenn., the first of the day's two Southern stops designed to build support for changing the system.
Bush's embrace of the man whose legacy critics say he would undo reflects the troubling state of play for today's White House amid growing public skepticism of Bush's ideas on transforming the popular program that FDR designed as a social compact between generations.
A new survey published by the Associated Press showed that 56% of respondents disapproved of Bush's handling of Social Security, compared to 37% who approved. Other recent polls have shown that support has declined since the president launched his sales campaign last month. The AP survey also found that 38% "strongly disapprove" of Bush's handling of the issue, while just 17% "strongly approve."
Despite near-unanimous Democratic opposition in Congress, Bush is trying to show that he can relate to those in the other party. He invited Rep. Harold Ford (D-Tenn.), who was given a seat in the third row at the morning event in his hometown of Memphis.
Ford, who is running for the U.S. Senate next year, has said he opposes Bush's approach, but he favors private accounts as an addition to the current system. If Bush hoped to change Ford's mind, the congressman said later he was not impressed by the orchestrated event.
"That wasn't a conversation. It was more of an echo," said Ford, whom conservative backers of private accounts view as a potential future ally.
"The president didn't allow any other points to be raised," Ford said. "I do hope if the president continues to do this, he will allow some pointed questions to be asked. This format's going to have to be changed for these conversations to be credible."
Tickets to the events are distributed mostly to Republicans. White House officials say the access is restricted for security reasons, while critics say they are trying to create a good image for local television.
"People agree there is need for some kind of reform of the system," said conservative economist Bruce Bartlett, a senior fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis. "They just don't think they agree with what the president has proposed."
Bush's message, Bartlett said, was "extremely muddled and unclear and not very compelling."
Greg Valliere, chief strategist for Stanford Washington Research Group, said it appeared that the president's focus on the potential rewards of letting younger workers invest part of their payroll taxes in stock and bonds was calling attention to the potential risks as well.
"People get nervous about tying their retirement to the market. The stock market has been very volatile the last few years," Valliere said.
"The Bush plan is really on life support right now," Valliere said. "I'm reluctant to say it's dead, but they haven't made the sale. They haven't made their case."
Bush's "plan" is on "life support" and he is not making "a very compelling case?" And why exactly are Democrats cutting any deals with him at all on anything?