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11:00 PM, Jan 24, 1999 • By DAVID FRUM
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Calling on Congress to "save" Social Security while refusing to do any of the heavy lifting himself is vintage Clinton. Odds are, the president will repeat that gambit in his State of the Union message. His hope may be that Congress will overreach, discredit privatization by acting before the emerging consensus in its favor has coalesced, and thus save the otherwise doomed troglodyte approach to Social Security. Reform proponents -- who have made their case with splendid effectiveness up until now -- are going to need to muster all of their self-discipline to resist the temptation to win this fight the wrong way, before a broad consensus in favor of reform has been cemented. Senator Phil Gramm has wisely suggested that any reform plan should offer those Americans already in the work force the choice to remain enrolled in the traditional system if they prefer. It's this sort of reassurance that will make the difference between ultimate success and failure.

Well, maybe not "ultimate." There is no ultimate anything in politics. After all, if the reformers win on Social Security, they can expect only a weekend off before they have to work on something really hard: Medicare.

David Frum, a contributing editor to the THE WEEKLY STANDARD, is completing a book on the 1970s.