Then there’s Social Security. For some odd reason, Bush seems to be serious about his promise to partially privatize Social Security. That is, he’s still talking about it after the election. There appears to be no way for Bush to enact such a scheme without racking up $2 trillion in transition costs. Bush’s tax cuts for the rich are projected to yield trillions of dollars in national debt, yet this explosion of red ink never became a hot topic during the presidential campaign. Will another $2 trillion in Bush-created debt finally pose him political trouble? Perhaps. At the same time, the folks around him have started to hint that retirement benefits may have to drop by 6 percent, even after supposed gains from private accounts are added to the picture. So let’s see: more debt, lower benefits. Sounds like a winner. No wonder several Senate Republicans have said they won’t support any Social Security legislation unless it is also endorsed by Democrats. They want political cover. Yet the conservative House Republicans have expressed no interest in negotiating with their Democratic colleagues. Can Bush navigate the political land mines? I’d rather choke on a pretzel.
During the campaign, I happened to share a long airplane ride with one of Kerry’s top advisers. Several hours into our conversation, he told me that every once in a while Kerry would ask him, "What the fuck are we going to do?" Kerry had in mind Iraq and a Kerry victory. Thanks to Ohio, he does not have the burden of devising an answer to his own query. But Bush does — and not merely on Iraq. He’s facing a boatload of ugly challenges and dilemmas. Democrats ought not to be too giddy about this, for Bush has demonstrated that when the going gets tough he is perfectly able to commit gigantic blunders with bad consequences for all and no punishment for him. But he is not going to be able to escape his problems by hitting the campaign trail. As an in-over-his-head president once said, "It’s hard work."