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September 07, 2011

Is Perry Unelectable?

Since I'm putting so many eggs in the "electability" basket I can't dismiss this out of hand.

Perry has called Social Security a "Ponzi scheme" that "weakens American values."

The usual math is that entitlements for seniors is the third rail of American politics -- seniors vote in great numbers, and are generally a swing-ish section of the vote, and tend to vote not quite as a single-issue bloc but largely based on entitlements.

Here's Karl Rove, calling Perry's position on Social Security politically "toxic."

On “GMA” this morning, Karl Rove noted that new GOP frontrunner has many strengths, but Rick Perry’s thoughts on Social Security are not among them.

Perry’s campaign has not backed away from what Perry wrote in his book “Fed Up” — that Social Security is a “Ponzi scheme,” a “failure,” “something we have been forced to accept for more than 70 years now,” and one of many New Deal programs that have “never died, and like a bad disease, they have spread.”
But Rove pulled no punches today, calling that stance “inadequate.”

“They are going to have to find a way to deal with these things,” Rove said.
“They’re toxic in a general election environment and they are also toxic in a Republican primary. And if you say Social Security is a failure and ought to be replaced by a state level program, then people are going to say ‘What do you mean by that?’ and make a judgment based on your answer to it,” he said.

I know the convenient rap on Karl Rove is that he's an establishment shill who wants to knock down any sort of threat to his enabling power base, but in fact what he says is pretty much true. It is very dangerous to speak negatively of Social Security. This is not a new idea. It's been true since... well, since Social Security was proposed.

Noted conservative intellectual (kidding) Joe Scarborough simply declares that Perry cannot win a general election, period.

Without a doubt, it would be far easier for any Republican to win an election without mentioning entitlement reform, or to run on his own Mediscare-type campaign promising to not touch entitlements at all.

That said... taking that thinking to its conclusion, a candidate could get elected doing that, but then, upon winning office (if he won), he'd have two options:

1) Once again punt on entitlement reform and doom America to bankruptcy.

2) Actually attempt entitlement reform, but do so after breaking a promise not to, without a mandate for it, as that public was never given the chance to consent on that policy through the normal method of hearing a proposal and then informing its vote in an election based on that proposal.

For what it's worth, Michele Bachmann is fairly up-front about the need for entitlement reform. Most candidates do discuss it. Tim Pawlenty did. Sarah Palin endorsed Paul Ryan's Roadmap (which includes major reforms to Medicare). Chris Christie -- not a candidate, but piping up to argue for fiscal responsibility -- declares these issues must be addressed.

Republican star and likely Vice Presidential nominee Marco Rubio is quite forward-leaning in announcing "entitlements weakened us as a nation."

These programs actually weakened us as a people. You see, almost forever, it was institutions in society that assumed the role of taking care of one another. If someone was sick in your family, you took care of them. If a neighbor met misfortune, you took care of them. You saved for your retirement and your future because you had to. We took these things upon ourselves in our communities, our families, and our homes, and our churches and our synagogues. But all that changed when the government began to assume those responsibilities.

I actually don't like this argument for several reasons, first among them, it's politically harmful. I don't like Rubio's or Perry's claim that it weakens us; I would focus on the fact that bankruptcy weakens us, and we need to change these programs to make them actually work, and continue into the future.

So I actually do believe that while these issues are dicey, and yet most be spoken about, Perry (and Rubio) are actually addressing these dicey subjects in a dicier manner than is even necessary. You don't want to play the Senior Scare card... on yourself.

Still, that's just verbiage. What ultimately counts is actual plans, actual proposals. And we can either do the responsible thing and attempt to change the math on entitlement reform, or we can continue down the path of financial ruin.

I think it continues to be better politics to do that latter, but it's not as politically suicidal to take the responsible position as it has been in the recent past.

If you don't support entitlement reform -- and entitlements were supposed to be sustained by the money collected from the payroll tax -- then you're in favor of general tax increases, and fairly large general tax increases, to pay for all this social safety net spending. If there is no effort made to bring entitlement spending more in line with entitlement revenue streams, the only remaining option is to simply start taxing the crap out of people.

Which is not very conservative.

Mitt Romney is probably playing this the cagiest by speaking so little about it.

But... that's not really clever, because that's what's been done for decades. It's not some genius, novel move. That is SOP. Clarification: Romney may speak little about it, but it's not true that he doesn't speak about it at all -- he does. Let me further clarify that I'm not against the basic idea of soft-selling this. But the more you soft-sell it, the less of a mandate you'd be able to claim were you to actually win the office sought. It's my belief that Perry is too forward-leaning on this, as far as politics, but Romeny isn't leaning far enough forward, as far as likely ability to claim a mandate for needed reform. I think both need some tweaking in their positioning.

And although the media now likes to pretend to forget this, even the SCOAMFOTUS promised entitlement reform during his campaign,* and was praised as an enlightened, courageous thinker for doing so.

I think I'd have trouble supporting a Republican candidate who was less forward-leaning on entitlement reform in 2012 than Barack Obama was in 2008.

Some things I'm not eager to gamble an election on; some things I'm more willing to do so. Entitlements are one of the areas I'm willing to gamble, because if we don't fix this, then we're really just arguing about which party will be the best administrators of the nation's bankruptcy proceedings.

* I keep saying he said this during his campaign, but the articles I always find in google searches have him making this promise in the first month of his actual presidency, in Jan-Feb 2009. I still think he said it during the campaign. If I'm wrong about that, though, he at least got praised for his entitlement heroism in very early 2009.

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posted by Ace at 12:55 PM

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