I'm still marvelling at how tendentious and, in at least some cases, sloppy Slate's scorecard of Kerry's "waffles" is.
Kerry's been in the Senate for twenty years. He has shifted on issues. And he has, in recent years, shifted toward the center. A friend of mine who I respect as much as anyone in this business -- and who is a confirmed opponent of President Bush's -- expressed concern over just this point a few days ago, calling Kerry a "positioner" and basing that on experience dealing with him as a reporter.
But some of these "waffles" are really pretty weak. Let's start with one under the header "Social Security" ...
Kerry's Original Position
During the 1996 campaign, when I was a Globe reporter, Kerry told me the Social Security system should be overhauled. He said Congress should consider raising the retirement age and means-testing benefits and called it "wacky" that payroll taxes did not apply to income over $62,700. "I know it's all going to be unpopular," he said. "But this program has serious problems, and we have a generational responsibility to fix them."
Kerry's Revised Position
Kerry no longer wants to mess with Social Security. "John Kerry will never balance the budget on the backs of America's seniors," his Web site promises.
Let's take this apart.
Is Kerry saying that any consideration of means-testing or raising the retirement age is off the table? I'd say someone should ask him. <$Ad$>Because if he's now making a categorical statement ruling this out, that would be a shift in his position. And going into a presidential election he might not want to be entirely clear.
But all the author includes is a website bromide about not "balanc[ing] the budget on the back of America's seniors."
(Here's the page
on the Kerry site where it says this. The full statement is: "John Kerry will never balance the budget on the backs of Americaâs seniors. Many politicians have supported major cuts that cause premium increases and cutbacks in benefits. John Kerry wonât.")
All the author is doing here is comparing a specific statement with a broad and essentially meaningless statement. He should have called up Kerry and tried to see if he still thinks those things should be on the table.
The rest of the before and after makes even less sense.
The author recounts how Kerry told him that it was "'wacky' that payroll taxes did not apply to income over $62,700." The author then says this contradicts the later website pledge about not balancing the federal budget "on the backs of America's seniors."
In this latter case the author may just be confused. I'm honestly not sure.
What Kerry is talking about here is raising or removing the cap on payroll taxes, which was then $62,700 and is now, I think, over $80,000, because of fixed yearly increases.
Getting rid of the cap is something usually put forward by people who don't want to touch benefits
because this is a change on the support side rather than the pay-out side.
So, for instance, if you wanted to balance the federal budget and get Social Security in check without touching so much as a hair on Social Security's balding head, the most obvious thing to do would be to remove the payroll tax cap because that amounts to a payroll tax increase on upper income people to put more money into Social Security and thus avoid benefit cuts.
There are all sorts of policy-wonkish arguments for why this would probably be a good thing. But for the moment, suffice it to say, that the author simply seems to have confused a tax increase for upper income earners who pay into
Social Security with a benefit cut for those who are recipients
of the program.
Phrasing it that way, of course, assumes that we grant the author's seeming premise that the website bromide amounts to forswearing any benefit cuts to Social Security. It can hardly be an example of trying to "balance the budget on the backs of America's seniors" when it's actually a demonstrable example of trying to balance it on the backs of the young, the middle aged and the wealthy.