Two post-1945 elections -- one a landslide, one a cliffhanger -- produced dramatic spending surges. Lyndon Johnson's 1964 rout of Barry Goldwater created in Congress the first liberal legislating majority since 1938. Pent-up liberal demands produced, among much else, Medicare. There is no such obvious explanation for the spending surge since 2000, other than the possibility that deficits are one way ``compassionate conservatism'' defines itself.
One reason for wanting Bush to win a second term is that the 22nd Amendment, by precluding third terms, makes some matters ``second term issues'' -- those too difficult to address while seeking re-election. In the last year of Bush's second term, or of John Kerry's first, the first of 77 million baby boomers will begin to retire, and to bankrupt Social Security and Medicare as currently configured.
Bush, unlike Kerry, has admirably bold plans for meeting these predictable crises, which are his generation's greatest domestic challenges. But these plans involve complexities and responsibilities that the public will fathom and accept only if they are explained by a president whom the public believes speaks judiciously and knows things, including what he does not know.
Furthermore, this president's plan for reforming Social Security, which involves allowing individuals to invest a portion of Social Security taxes in approved private accounts, will have large transition costs. Large deficits of the sort currently occurring may become a reason, or at least an excuse, for further delaying reform.
So far, the president's difficulties have been partially obscured by the sheer silliness of the Democrats seeking to replace him, all of whom want to run William Jennings Bryan's fourth campaign. Bryan lost three times, but today they are all prairie populists, even the fellow from Boston's Beacon Hill, inveighing against ``special interests.'' That category, although capacious, does not encompass trial lawyers, teachers unions and hundreds of other Democratic clients, including Iowa beneficiaries of ethanol subsidies.
But if the president is to win a second term, and if it is to be worth winning, he must begin again to speak plainly and accurately, not just less foolishly than the make-believe Bryans.