Michael Barone

 Another issue on which Democrats have had a historic advantage is Social Security. John Kerry stoutly opposed all change -- no tax increases, no benefit cuts, no "privatization." Bush, as he did in 2000, called for personal retirement accounts. Older workers would continue to receive promised benefits. Young workers would have the option of putting some of their Social Security tax into investment accounts they would control. This tests well in polls, especially with young voters, who are skeptical that they will ever receive promised benefits. (But many Republican politicians, worried about elderly voters, are skittish about the issue.)

 Bush can be justly criticized for not laying out his plans with much specificity. As on Medicare-prescription drugs, he seems content to raise the issue and let Congress -- especially House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas -- work out the details. Nor is it clear that any significant number of Democrats would support Bush on health savings accounts or Social Security. A re-elected George W. Bush may or may not be able to deliver on his promises.

 But he has at least set out a vision of an "ownership society" that is a vivid contrast to what John Kerry proposes. Kerry, like most Democrats since the 1970s, aims to move this country some distance toward a Western European style welfare state. (His proposals would result in government spending an ever larger percentage of gross domestic product far into the future. Leave aside the question of whether his tax increase on the highest incomes would pay for this.)

 The (larger) question is whether the United States wants to become a society with the problems of Western European welfare states -- zero job growth, stagnant economies, ever-increasing shares of GDP spent by government.

 Industrial economies, with their huge firms and masses of low-skill workers, had a natural tendency toward centralization and government redistribution of income: hence the New Deal, the Great Society, the Western European welfare states. Post-industrial economies, with their burgeoning small firms and churning technological innovation, have a natural tendency toward decentralization and market distribution of resources.

 The vision Kerry presented in the second and third debates, of further centralization and growing government, seems more in line with the industrial era. The vision Bush presented, more effectively than he has before, is more in line with our post-industrial times.

Michael Barone

Michael Barone, senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner (www.washingtonexaminer.com), is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. To find out more about Michael Barone, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2011 THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM