Democrats sometimes portray themselves as high-minded and naive—unwilling to play as rough as the GOP. Speaker Nancy Pelosi is, once again, proving that self-image wrong. She’s not only refusing Donald Trump’s demand for a border wall. She’s trying to cripple his presidency. And she may well succeed.
Pelosi’s strategy resembles the one she employed to debilitate another Republican president: George W. Bush. Bush returned to Washington after his 2004 reelection victory determined to partially privatize Social Security. “I earned capital in the campaign, political capital,” he told the press, “and I intend to spend it.” Bush’s plan contained two main elements. The first was convincing the public that there was a crisis. Social Security, he declared in his 2005 State of the Union address, “is headed toward bankruptcy.” The second was persuading Democrats to offer their own proposals for changing it.
As the journalist Matthew Yglesias pointed out not long ago, a fallacy underlay Bush’s argument. Even if you believed Social Security was going bankrupt, diverting some of the tax money that funds it into private accounts wouldn’t solve the problem. It would make the problem worse. To mask that glitch, Bush needed to lure Democrats into offering proposals that actually shored up Social Security’s finances—by cutting benefits, raising taxes, or cutting other spending—but were highly unpopular. Americans would presumably prefer Bush’s cotton candy to the Democrats’ broccoli, and thus empower Bush to fulfill the decades-old conservative goal of ending Social Security as a program of social insurance.