Nice Try


I can see the McCain campaign is cleverly trying to bury the furor over the candidate’s Social Security ‘disgrace’ comments by having Phil Gramm claim that we’re in the midst of a psychosomatic recession. But I’m not so easily thrown off the scent. After having campaign spokesman Brian Rogers take a stab at explaining his boss’s remarks, McCain took a shot himself, saying that young people “are paying so much that they are paying into a system that they won’t receive benefits from on its present track that it’s on — that’s the point.”

Let’s set aside McCain’s factual claim that current payors into the system won’t receive their benefits back since that is demonstrably false. And let’s go back to what McCain actually said not once but multiple times — that the system, as originally designed and as it’s worked for going on over 70 years is a “disgrace.” Indeed, let’s go further and remove the inflammatory ‘disgrace’ language and focus on McCain’s underlying argument, which is that the program itself, a pay-as-you-go retirement security program isn’t something to be tinkered with to keep it on track but is rather the problem itself. If the ‘disgrace’ comments didn’t make this point clearly enough, McCain made the point just as clearly the following day on CNN when he told John Roberts, “Let’s describe [Social Security] for what it is. They [i.e., working Americans] pay their taxes and right now their taxes are going to pay the retirement of present-day retirees. That’s why it’s broken, that’s why we can fix it.”

Couldn’t be clearer. The ‘problem’ with Social Security, what makes the program an “absolute disgrace” is the design of the program itself, not something that’s gotten out of whack about it.

Now, as Mr. McCain might, let’s have some straight talk. What McCain believes is no different from what President Bush and others did and do believe when they wanted to phase out Social Security and replace it with a system of private investment accounts. He’s just been a bit clumsier about hiding what he’s pushing for. The debate about Social Security is the same as it was in 2005 and in most respects the same as it was in 1965. You have one group who believe in the current system — which is an intergenerational bargain, insuring a baseline level of retirement security as well as insurance against premature, disability and for dependent children. The other side — McCain’s side — thinks this is just wrong, morally and economically. And in its place they want to create a system of individual private investment accounts — similar to a lifetime 401k.

That’s the essence of the debate. And no one should be deceived by McCain’s own efforts to twist and spin his own words retrospectively.