Reflecting on the death throes of the Republican Revolution, Terence Samuel pin-points the turning point: the failure of President Bush's plan to privatize social security. When you think about it, that was a pretty incredible vindication of the saying that Social Security is the "third rail" of politics. It's difficult to remember now, but when Bush rolled out that plan, he was at the peak of his game--just coming off a solid re-election victory over John Kerry, majorities in both houses of Congress, and possessing a general aura, as Samuel puts it, of "invincibility." On Social Security, there was even a pre-existing narrative for reform; even many Democrats had trumpeted the "social security is going bankrupt" line in the recent memories of voters. Democrats had spent the last three years cowing before the Bush onslaught, and--with post-election "political capital" to spend--he saw no reason why they wouldn't similarly roll over here too.
But, finally finding their backbone, Democrats pushed back. For sure, they were helped by the fact that Bush's plan was not a very good idea, as well as the problem that Bush's re-election campaign was based not a whit on social security reform (I forget the particulars of his campaign--something about how voting for Kerry meant letting al-Qaeda take over Boston and the Vietcong march through Hawaii, plus wolves devouring your children--but it definitely had nothing to do with social security). And dealing Bush his first major defeat since he had taken office, the aura was tarnished. Democrats became emboldened. The Bush administration looked ever-weaker. And today, the Democrats are in a stronger position than they even have been in recent memory, with both houses of Congress, a strong chance at retaking the presidency, and a good congressional playing field in 2008.