Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Stupid Like a Fox: McCain on Social Security

Much fun is being had around the Interwebs with McCain's latest gem:

"Americans have got to understand that we are paying present-day retirees with the taxes paid by young workers in America today. And that's a disgrace. It's an absolute disgrace, and it's got to be fixed."

Well, duh, sez MyDD: "This could ruin him. As most everyone who earns a paycheck knows, young workers pay into the program, and retirees collect the benefit." No kiddin', chimes in DailyKos: "Every time McCain opens his mouth these days, he seems to be expressing either ignorance or disdain." At TPM, they just say "nonsense".

And they're right. From when Social Security was set up, the plan was for workers to pay the costs of those retired, and yes the program is functioning according to plan. If you have an understanding of the history of Social Security, his statement is foolish. Now, how many people in that large segment called voters-who-don't-blog have an understanding of the history of Social Security? The plan does sound weird...were such a program run by a private enterprise, it could be viewed as a Ponzi scheme. Would you enroll in this program were it described suchly by a salesman who came to your door?

But I'm not convinced this was a "gaffe" by McCain. As annoying as many things are that come out of politicians' mouths, I believe it is overlooked just how much cleverness and smarts it takes to get far in the field. Frankly, I don't think one tenth of political bloggers could keep it on the level so constantly as the professionals. (I particularly think of their glee when a politician on either side is caught doing a crossword puzzle or napping at some pointless policy hearing that would put any beating heart into a coma.) I'm inclined to believe that at least half the mistakes candidates make are on purpose, and I think this "slip" by McCain is one of them.

One of the sad truths about last-minute voters, who often make the difference in elections, is that they are incredibly, well, uninformed. (Christopher Hayes' article is a great read on that point.) And whether it be Obama-as-Muslim, Obama-not-sayin'-the-Pledge, or this, the Republicans are doing a great job targeting that uninformed voter. While policy wonks may get tickled at McCain's ignorance, I'd guess that twice, three times as many others are thinking "he's right, that don't make no sense." How many people are ignorant of the original setup of Social Security works? Bloggers and policy wonks are not McCain's constituency, and while he may actually be talking under our heads, he may be hitting his target audience square on.

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