CHANGING THE GUARD….President Bush is apparently planning to make some wholesale changes to his economic team:

One senior administration official said Treasury Secretary John W. Snow can stay as long as he wants, provided it is not very long.

Don’t let the door hit you on the way out, John!

I’m suffering from cognitive shock at the moment. I managed to forget about the real world this weekend and ended up reading a couple of good books: Running On Empty, by Peter Peterson, and Harry and Ike, by Steve Neal. At first glance they have nothing in common: one is about entitlement reform and the other is about the relationship between Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower in the 40s and 50s. Oddly, though, they come together in throwing the partisan recklessness of modern politics into high relief.

Peterson is a Republican, but in his book he’s almost embarrassingly earnest about being nonpartisan. (He’s one of the founders of the nonpartisan Concord Coalition.) He takes on Democrats for being unwilling to take seriously the need for modest benefit cuts in any plan to save Social Security and Medicare, but he’s equally scathing toward Republicans who are unwilling to consider modest tax increases as part of a fiscally responsible plan. He’s honest enough to concede that private accounts might be part of a solution, but also that they only make sense if they’re funded with additional taxes, not smoke and mirrors that funds them out of ever larger deficits.

And then there’s Harry and Ike. They split deeply during the 1952 presidential campaign, which at times seemed more like a contest between them than between Eisenhower and Adlai Stevenson, but for all the bitterness and partisanship between them it was always clear that they both cared deeply about doing what was right. It’s not that they didn’t play for big stakes, it’s just that on the big issues neither of them was willing to deliberately make things worse solely to gain partisan advantage.

Fast forward to 2004, and if you read between the lines of the Post story linked above it’s obvious that Peterson has about as much chance of being listened to as the ghosts of Harry and Ike. The White House is planning to recruit yet another economic team, and what seems to be driving it is their difficulty in finding people sufficiently willing to sell their souls to the devil. Anyone with a remaining shred of integrity knows that financing Social Security privatization via higher deficits is madness, which means Bush’s task is to find people from the ever dwindling pool of loyalists willing to make the case anyway. Neither Harry nor Ike ? or even Ronald Reagan, for that matter ? would have been willing to betray our future merely for a small, short-term partisan advantage, but today it barely even raises an eyebrow.

We’ve come a long way, baby.

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