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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

The Social Security Smoke-out

For a politician who likes to style himself as a straight-talking conservative fiscal hawk, John McCain has been rather evasive on what he proposed to do about Social Security.
He supported Bush’s politically disastrous 2005 privatization plan. His new “economic plan” calls reform of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid the key to long-term fiscal responsibility. And at roughly the same time, he called the “pay as you go” structure of Social Security a “disgrace.”
But he’s dancing around anything terribly specific right now. And that’s deliberate:

McCain and his aides say the lack of specificity is intentional — the result of lessons from 2005, when Bush tried to sell a skeptical public on private accounts.
“There’s a really careful recognition of the history,” said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, McCain’s economic advisor.
“The history on Social Security has been if you put out specific proposals or preconditions, you polarize the debate and the deal doesn’t get done.”

So much for “straight talk.”
As Peter Wallsten of the L.A. Times reports today, Democrats have decided to smoke out McCain’s position on Social Security, by using the available evidence attributing Bushian views or worse to him, and then challenging him to come out with contrary views if he can. It’s a classic “smoke-out” operation, and it’s coming very soon.

On Tuesday, a coalition of Democratic strategists, labor unions and liberal activist groups that helped defeat Bush’s efforts in 2005 plans to launch a similar campaign. They intend to target McCain and dozens of GOP congressional candidates who have supported proposals to allow workers to divert some of their payroll taxes out of the Social Security system and into private investment accounts….
This week, the coalition — which began laying its plans Friday in a conference call arranged by the DNC — will start demonstrating at McCain’s events and offices, particularly in key states with many seniors. The group has ordered thousands of signs with “Hands Off My Social Security” on one side and “My Social Security Is Not a Disgrace” on the other.

This campaign is intended to force McCain either to confirm the politically dangerous views he has embraced in the past, or to admit another flip-flop, or to look like just another mealy-mouthed Washington pol–all mirroring attack lines his campaign has taken against Barack Obama, who does happen to have a specific Social Security proposal, albeit one just focused on boosting revenues.
This should be another lively week on the campaign trail. But at least Phil Gramm won’t be the one speaking for the McCain campaign on Social Security.

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