Friday, September 9, 2011

Toward the end of President Obama’s feisty American Jobs Act speech Thursday night, he made one passing, but politically key, reference to Social Security:

“What kind of country would this be if this chamber had voted down Social Security or Medicare just because it violated some rigid idea about what government could or could not do?” Obama asked. “How many Americans would have suffered as a result?”

One day after Social Security suddenly became the driving issue in the GOP presidential nomination race, it was only one of the examples Obama used to challenge Republicans in Congress who “sincerely believe that the only solution to our economic challenges is to simply cut most government spending and eliminate most government regulations.”

But it clearly demonstrated both how wholly embedded Social Security is in American society and how out-of-the-political-mainstream is the notion of not having the most crucial element of the government safety net.

Last night, sounding like an actual, energized Democrat with his repeated call on Congress to “pass this jobs plan right away,” Obama said his Rooseveltian $447 billion program “will create more jobs for construction workers, more jobs for teachers, more jobs for veterans, and more jobs for the long-term unemployed.

“It will provide a tax break for companies who hire new workers, and it will cut payroll taxes in half for every working American and every small business,” he said. “It will provide a jolt to an economy that has stalled, and give companies confidence that if they invest and hire, there will be customers for their products and services. You should pass this jobs plan right away.”

Perry’s Ponzi scheme: Whether congressional Republicans in Congress will move much, if any, of Obama’s plan forward is highly doubtful.

As former GOP congressional staffer Mike Lofgren has written so brilliantly, many of them are committed to one goal: destroying the Obama presidency at any cost. But even so, few of them are likely to take up GOP presidential contender Rick Perry’s line of attack against Social Security.

And that’s what unexpectedly emerged as a fault line within the Republican Party at Wednesday’s night at the Reagan Library debate in Simi Valley.

It was there that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt (“Uncle Morticia”) Romney made the most important strategic move in the campaign thus far: he took the Ronald Reagan/Bill Clinton position that it’s Washington’s job to save Social Security, not dismantle it.

“The governor says look, states ought to be able to opt out of Social Security. Our nominee has to be someone who isn’t committed to abolishing Social Security, but who is committed to saving Social Security,” Romney said, making an argument that he immediately stepped up on Thursday.

This was in stark contrast to the GOP’s flavor-of-the-month front-runner, Texas Gov. Rick (“Snake Slayer”) Perry, who continued to insist that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme – that is, an illegal financial scam where early investors are paid not from profits but from the cash flow generated by new investors – and a monstrous lie to young people paying into the system. (BTW, we’re pretty sure Perry actually knows little about late, lamented Charles Ponzi.)

“Vote Perry” posters at the White House: If Obama and the Democrats had been hoping to be able to attack the Republican nominee for advocating the elimination of Social Security and, perhaps to a lesser extent, Medicare, the only candidate against which that approach can now succeed would be Perry.

Romney clearly sees Perry’s stand as a political blunder, arguing Thursday that Perry had rendered himself unelectable and that his nomination could lead to a Democratic landslide in 2012. “If we nominate someone who the Democrats could correctly characterize as being against Social Security we would be obliterated as a party,” Romney said on Sean Hannity’s radio show.

As for Perry, while he may have helped himself with younger, alienated conservative Republicans (who don’t regularly vote in Republican primaries), he may well have undercut his appeal to older, lower- and moderate-income Republicans (who do vote) in places like Florida, Arizona and any southern state where retired folks on fixed incomes are living in double-wides and taking in the early bird special.

We can just hear the barber shop debate now:

“You hear that Perry fella wants to do away with our Social Security?”
“Yeah, but at least he ain’t no damn Mormon.”
“I’d take one of them garment guys over somebody wants my disability.”
“I reckon you got a point there.”

Case closed.

To read entire column, click here.