Sometimes you learn a lot when someone goes off the record because — sometimes — they go off the reservation.
A Democratic congressman talked to me after seeing my interview with New York's Charlie Rangel on the issue of Social Security (search).
"You don't understand, Neil," he said. "This Social Security issue is our party's issue. A Democratic president came up with it. Who the hell is a Republican president to destroy it?"
"But it's broke," I say.
"I know," he shoots back. "But there's no politically wise way to fix it."
He's brutally blunt and he's brutally aware the president has called Democrats' bluff:
They wanted the rich to get less. Under the president's plan, the rich will get less.
They wanted something close to "means-testing." Under the president's plan, those with means are tested.
They wanted the poor protected. Under the president's plan, they're more than protected.
Yet with each overture — with each bow to his opponents — his opponents bow out.
"It's a dead issue, Neil," this congressman explains. "It's killing the president in the polls for doing it. Why should we join him? What's the upside for us?"
"Oh, I don't know," I say. "Maybe saving the system your hero FDR invented?"
"No, Neil," he interrupts. "It doesn't work that way."
So the president goes out on that third rail of politics, I argue, and you're going to sit and watch him get electrocuted?
"Yes," he says.
"Why?" I ask.
"Because we can. Because we will."
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