President-elect Barack Obama pledged yesterday to shape a new Social Security and Medicare "bargain" with the American people, saying that the nation's long-term economic recovery cannot be attained unless the government finally gets control over its most costly entitlement programs.
That discussion will begin next month, Obama said, when he convenes a "fiscal responsibility summit" before delivering his first budget to Congress. He said his administration will begin confronting the issues of entitlement reform and long-term budget deficits soon after it jump-starts job growth and the stock market.
"What we have done is kicked this can down the road. We are now at the end of the road and are not in a position to kick it any further," he said. "We have to signal seriousness in this by making sure some of the hard decisions are made under my watch, not someone else's."
"Signaling seriousness" is a dull, infantile euphemism for switching from the metaphorical kicking of cans to the much less metaphorical kicking of teeth. Old stuff, as is the grandiosity of preening over a firm resolve to do something vicious. But in one sense Barack Obama remains a transformative candidate. Even George Bush couldn't destroy Social Security. It takes a very special Decider, one who can follow through on the very worst and make it his own. One who really does believe, as IOZ put it so trenchantly, "that the act of deciding exists independently of the decision itself, that the outcome is an invalid rubric for judging the appropriateness and rightness of the initiatory act."