Quixote From Nebraska

Social Security was once dubbed the "third rail of American politics." Yet Senator Bob Kerrey, a Nebraska Democrat running for reelection, is grasping the issue with both hands.

The 50-year-old Kerrey is chairman of the Bipartisan Commission on Entitlement & Tax Reform, whose goal is to raise private savings and cut the deficit. That means curbing programs such as Social Security and Medicare. Already, he's being hammered as the guy who wants to trash Social Security.

The job is so distasteful that some cynics hint that President Clinton suckered Kerrey into taking it. But the intense senator says it was neither punishment nor payoff. Kerrey insists he volunteered: "I think it is a moral issue. There is virtue connected to this idea of saving."

Kerrey, a Medal of Honor winner who opposed the Persian Gulf War, has always marched to a different drummer. And tackling entitlements won't win him many friends in the Senate. But the quixotic Kerrey doesn't seem to mind. Instead, he quotes a line usually attributed to Harry Truman: "If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog."

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