I’ve been surprised by the weakness of the conservative grassroots push for social security reform. Here’s some illumination from The Note:
When the President first enunciated his Social Security principles, business groups, prodded by the White House, said they’d spend millions to influence public opinion. That was predicated on the Administration’s announcing its support for a precise proposal early.
“We haven’t done it because Bush doesn’t have a plan yet,” said the Free Enterprise Fund’s Steve Moore. “It’s hard for anyone to mobilize conservative activists and conservative money until we all know that it’s a plan that’s worth mobilizing for.”
But, as I understand it, Bush doesn’t have a precise plan because he needs the ability to negotiate with Democrats in order to get a bill through Congress. That’s why he keeps saying that “everything’s on the table.” I think this may have been a huge mistake. First, by not endorsing a specific plan, you allow the opposition to play the vagueness to their advantage and to impute an unattractive plan to the administration, around which they can rally resistance. Second, you leave yourself and your advocates unable to defend your plan against the opposition. All you can say is: “That’s not the plan I have in mind.” Third, your grassroots support has nothing to rally around, and so keeps the money in the bank, as the AARP, Big Labor, etc., run riot. The public’s attention span for the issue may be short. So it’s a big loss to lose out in the first few rounds of the PR battle.
All this has to weighed against the bargaining advantages of public open-endedness about policy. But if you lose the public opinion war too badly, in part because of the strategy of vagueness, then the bargaining advantages of vagueness start to dissipate.
I hope that the adminstration’s doing some kind of rope-a-dope, and letting the anti-reform forces start to feel complacently self-congratulatory before wheeling out the big guns, and mobilizing the massive grassroots PR assault. I mean, that could happen, right?