Defensive Gymnastics


Last night, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich went head-to-head on the long-term solvency of Social Security.  Gingrich proposed – again – individual accounts, modeled after the highly successful Chilean “Little Passbook” system.  (From Gingrich’s remarks, the system’s architect, Jose Pinera, was slated to give a presentation on the subject later, but you can see him speak here.)  Santorum pointed out the plan’s Achilles’ Heel, the cost of covering defined benefits to current and soon-to-be recipients during the transition.

Instead, Santorum, and then Romney, proposed more tweaks to the system, of the kind that have gotten us into this mess in the first place.  Santorum’s solution, raising the retirement age a couple of years, isn’t going to solve a mismatch caused by declining birth rates and decades-longer life spans.  Romney’s seemed unaware of the existence of 401(k) accounts and IRAs.

To erstwhile Romney supporter Jennifer Rubin, however, not only is Santorum’s limited vision correct, it’s an excuse to boost the un-nominatable Santorum at the expense of Gingrich, who poses a real national threat to her candidate:

…we have a huge, nagging debt right now and he’s going to make it worse with his plan. And while Santorum was certainly right on substance, Gingrich’s glibness may have successfully concealed how really silly is his policy proposal.

In short, aside from the political hurdles (George Bush died on his sword over individual accounts) Gingrich’s Social Security plan is, as Santorum claimed, irresponsible.

Individual accounts funded by individual contributions – defined contribution accounts – are the right answer, and the longer we wait, the greater the cost, the greater the burden on the country’s finances.  But to Rubin, the right answer, easier to implement today than tomorrow, is “irresponsible,” while ineffective tweaks and redundant savings plans are “right on substance.”

And this is only a taste of the defensive gymnastics, the excuses for timidity, the defenses of unnecessary compromise (and yes, folks, there is such a thing as necessary compromise) that a Romney presidency will likely bring.

No wonder those promises of “electability” are beginning to seem a little suspect.

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