But careful polling may well show these members that their fear is misplaced. Politicians rely on their political judgment built up over a lifetime in politics. This instinct is usually pretty accurate for politicians midway through a successful electoral career. But their instinct on Social Security may well be off because of the sharp difference in public attitudes based on the age of the voters.
The electorate is, of course, constantly changing. Old people die, young people come of age and start voting. We don't notice this gradual change, and usually it doesn't matter that much. But on the issue of Social Security, age is a defining measure of attitude. The Roosevelt-era voters, who hold Social Security untouchable, are dying off very quickly now, while the post-boomer generation, which discounts its reliability, is coming into its high voting rate period of life. The boomers are split.
Most congressmen over the age of 40 feel in their bones that touching Social Security is political death. But their bones may be deceiving them. When the Republican Party starts polling the specific districts of fearful members, they may well find out that properly designed, a Social Security bill may not be political death at all -- given the changing demographics. The party has several months to take these soundings, as part of a confidence-building effort for the members who will be called on to vote in the fall or winter.
Moreover, only after months of careful polling, listening and discussion with various interest groups and political factions, will President Bush settle on the various pieces of his Social Security bill most likely to gain majority support in Congress. Currently, members of Congress are imagining a fright night of all the most unpopular provisions.
The other element not currently being fully considered is President Bush's willfulness, persistence and leadership. Particularly if Iraq and foreign policy are seen to be going better by the fall, President Bush will carry a bigger megaphone in persuading the public and a bigger stick to persuade the politicians.
Thus, it is highly relevant to the politics of Social Security that Sen. Hillary Clinton started talking positively about events in Iraq last week. As a particularly acute bellwether of political expediency, Senator Clinton's positive rhetorical shift on Iraq suggests good news for President Bush. With the economy predicted to continue in healthy 3.5 percent growth for the year, and with things going the president's way abroad, he could well go into the autumn legislating season with 55-58 percent job approval.
Such a president -- armed with a carefully designed bill that finesses the hardest bits of the reform, and laying the charge of obstruction and dereliction of duty at the doorstep of naysaying congressmen of both parties -- is quite likely to get his way on Social Security reform, which almost all members, despite what they are saying publicly, know is in desperate need of rectification. And, at the margin, that shriveled but not yet fully dead sense of public duty, may move the odd vote or two.
Blankley, who had been suffering from stomach cancer, died Saturday night at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, his wife, Lynda Davis, said Sunday.
In his long career as a political operative and pundit, his most visible role was as a spokesman for and adviser to Gingrich from 1990 to 1997. Gingrich became House Speaker when Republicans took control of the U.S. House of Representatives following the 1994 midterm elections.