Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Obama's Social Security Crisis

By David Corn | October 31, 2007 12:12 AM

Last spring, I was chatting with a top Barack Obama strategist. The junior senator from Illinois running for the Democratic presidential nomination had been on quite the streak: record fundraising, crowds of thousands. But he trailed Hillary Clinton in the polls and, perhaps more important, he had not signaled how he could surpass her. When would he take Clinton on? I asked the Obama-ite. I wasn't inquiring when he would start hurling mudballs at her, but when he would explicitly argue that he was better than her and start saying things (about policy, about politics, about life) that she could--or would--not. It's coming, the Obama aide said, it's coming; we hear you, and it's coming.

Summer arrived and departed, and it didn't come. A series of Democratic presidential debates transpired and one-third of the fall passed, and it didn't come. But now the time has...well, come. Last week, Obama told two New York Times reporters he would start confronting Clinton more forcefully and more directly. He made this declaration when the Iowa caucus--moved up to January 3--was a mere ten weeks in the future.

Too late? Perhaps. Obama's people have argued for months that there was sufficient time. But in that period, Clinton became a better candidate and solidified her lead in the national polls and in surveys of Democrats in Iowa and New Hampshire. The timing matter aside, Obama's new initiative against HRC was curious for what he chose as his opening salvo: Social Security.

On Sunday, the Obama campaign released a television ad that focused on Social Security. In it, he tells a group of Iowans, "I don't want to just put my finger out to the wind and see what the polls say. I want to bring the country together to solve a problem." This was an attack on Clinton, whom Obama has accused of "ducking the issue" of Social Security by not saying what she would do as president to preserve and protect the retirement program. Her approach, Obama charged at one campaign event, is to "hedge, dodge and spin, but at all costs, don't answer." Indeed, Clinton has not detailed what she would do about Social Security, vowing that she would convene a bipartisan commission before making any decisions. Though Obama does not refer to Clinton by name in his ad, he essentially calls her out for not having the guts to deal forthrightly with what he depicts as a looming Social Security crisis.

There are two problems here--one political, the other policy. First, the political: will Democratic voters believe there is such a difference on Social Security between Obama and Clinton that they will choose him over her? They certainly do not see Hillary Clinton as a rabid privatizer who ought to be feared. And what Obama proposes for Social Security--protect benefits, prevent privatization, remove the cap on Social Security taxes for the wealthy--is a mainstream Democratic position. It's John Edwards' position. With his ad, Obama was attacking Clinton not for having a lousy position but for not having proposed a Social Security plan. While this could win him a few Clinton-leaners, it's not a definitional blow.

As for policy, by assailing Clinton in this fashion, Obama was, in a way, aiding Republicans and conservatives who have hyped the problems with Social Security to pave the way for privatization. I'll let Roger Hickey, co-director of the Campaign for America's Future, a liberal outfit that led the successful opposition to George W. Bush's partial privatization of Social Security, explain. He tells me:

Obama and his advisers have chosen to attack Hillary on Social Security from the right and the left at same time. He makes a big issue of the looming retirement of the baby boom in the same way right wingers do. And then he makes a big deal about how he won't solve the problem in a conservative way. It might work in a general election, but it doesn't impress Democratic voters in primaries. He might consider attacking on issues that the primary voters care about -- like the war or energy policy.

Hickey is right. Democratic voters do not seem to be clamoring for Social Security change (even if some changes are needed to deal with projected shortfalls in the coming decades).

During Tuesday night's face-off of the Democratic presidential candidates, Obama's assault on Clinton's Social Security stance (or lack thereof) was a matter of debate. At the start of the night, Obama challenged HRC's credibility, accusing her of flip-flopping on Nafta, the use of torture, and the Iraq war. He did not mention Social Security. But when he was later asked about his recent Social Security poke at Clinton, he said that Hillary Clinton has not been truthful or clear about her Social Security position. (He was referring to published reports saying she had privately voiced support for raising the cap on Social Security taxes paid by the wealthy.) Clinton, ready with a reply, countered that there are no real policy distinctions between her and her chief Democratic rivals on this front. This was no knockout punch for Obama, for he was slamming her for basically agreeing with him (and with Edwards) while declining to say so in public.

At the Philadelphia debate, John Edwards landed better punches on Clinton, saying that she was a candidate of "double-talk" and incapable of taking on and fixing the broken and corrupt system of Washington. Several times when Obama jabbed at her, he seemed tentative and even stammered.

Back to Social Security: many Democrats believe Bush tried to create a phony Social Security crisis to serve ideological and corporate interests. They are probably not yearning for a candidate who will talk tough about Social Security. Obama needs to move on. And, once again, he needs to do better in the next debate.

BTW, Jonathan Stein, my colleague at Mother Jones recently took a look at what Obama has to do to distinguish himself from Clinton. After last night's debate, that need remains.

FYI. This week, I officially began as head of Mother Jones's new seven-person Washington bureau. As my first official act, I ordered a teamwork-building exercise, instructing the staff to form pairs and assemble bookshelves, with no one allowed to use his or her dominant hand. The team that completed the task first won a poster proclaiming there's no "I" in "Team." Seriously, ladies and gentlemen, I've been dealing with logistics (new computer, new phone, moving 20 years of files) but will soon be producing articles as I did at The Nation . In the meantime, I will be contributing postings to our group blog, MoJo Blog. Please check it out.

Send tips, leads, praise, and (if you must) complaints to Cornblog@hotmail.com.


O'Reilly said...

Corn's first blog entry at MoJo.

capt said...

Well, close but no, that is DC's third post at MoJo.

Obama and Edwards Oppose Mukasey; Where's Hillary Clinton?
Posted by David Corn on 10/30/07 at 9:15 AM

There's Hillary
Posted by David Corn on 10/30/07 at 10:25 AM

The Best Debate Moment Belongs to Joe Biden
Posted by David Corn on 10/31/07 at 7:51 AM


AND DC's first post at CQ (although comments were not working last night)

Obama's Social Security Crisis
By David Corn | October 31, 2007 12:12 AM

David B. Benson said...

$95 a barrel.

Might make your $100 per barrel Xmas present, Capt.

capt said...

Congressional Quarterly Launches Enhanced CQ Politics Web Site

Newly redesigned site delivers award-winning journalism with state-of-the-art digital appeal

WASHINGTON, Oct. 31 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Congressional Quarterly Inc., the nation's premier provider of news and analysis on Congress, politics and public policy, today announced the launch of the new CQ Politics Web site, the leading free site for political professionals, opinion leaders and political enthusiasts. The site now features richer reporting, expanded content and advanced digital enhancements -- all available without a subscription. A dynamic new editorial team headed by NPR veterans Bruce Drake and Peggy Girshman guides the site.

"Since 1945, CQ has earned a sterling reputation as the pre-eminent source for trusted, objective information on Congress and politics," said President and Editor-in-Chief Robert W. Merry. "With this new free site, we are taking our award-winning news and analysis to the country at large. This is an exciting new mission for us."

Merry said the new site would incorporate the latest and most innovative interactive media tools and added, "CQ Politics will go beyond the coverage of electoral politics and concentrate also on the politics of Congress and the executive branch -- the full range of activities within official Washington that bear on the question of where our government is taking us."

The New CQ Politics

-- News and analysis --

The top political news stories from CQ's press corps of 150 reporters and editors will be featured on the site each day. In addition, an expanded CQ Politics reporting team will continue to provide in-depth coverage of the presidential, congressional and gubernatorial races.

-- Blogs and columns --

To round out the site's political news coverage, CQ Politics offers a number of signature blogs and featured columns that provide additional context, perspective and insight on the campaigns, the players and the issues. -- Interactive tools -- The site provides an exciting variety of interactive tools, including the popular CQ Election Map, which offers in-depth data on districts and races, and PolitiFact, which features a "truth-o-meter" that scores the truthfulness of specific claims by the presidential candidates.


*****end of clip*****

Although the transition has hit a few bumps in the road (comments section is not working) I’m sure they are working out the kinks as we speak.


Hajji said...

Seems like we can post to MoJo Blog, but not to columns...


capt said...

New Thread

(as the comments are still not working at Corn CQ Headquarters)