Sensibly enough, however, his advisers are trying to mute such themes in his campaign, knowing that privatization is extremely unpopular. They may have noticed that $50 million worth of advertising and promotion didn't work three years ago. They may also have noticed that their candidate is poorly equipped to discuss the issue. As he once confessed, "the issue of economics is not something I've understood as well as I should."
So, on the McCain campaign website, the section concerning Social Security merely suggests he would "supplement" the existing system with personal investment accounts -- a suggestion that is entirely different from the more radical kind of privatization he has supported in the past.
But when the Wall Street Journal inquired about the discrepancy between his website and his previous statements, the candidate declared that his own position has never changed.
"I'm totally in favor of personal savings accounts," he said.
"As part of Social Security reform, I believe that private savings accounts are a part of it -- along the lines that President Bush proposed." (The other "parts" would include sharp benefit cuts, if the senator's past votes and statements provide any guide to future policy.) "I'll correct any policy paper that I've put out that might intimate that personal savings accounts are not a very important factor," he vowed.
Perhaps the old "straight talker" was simply saying what he thought would please powerful readers of the Journal, a newspaper whose editorial page avidly supports privatized accounts. But privatization is still not emphasized on the McCain website, to say the least. He doesn't utter a word about private accounts in a video on the site titled "Social Security."
Instead, he pledges in that video to seek the same kind of solution achieved by President Ronald Reagan and the late House Speaker Tip O'Neill more than two decades ago. Following the advice of a commission headed by Alan Greenspan, who has since come and gone as Federal Reserve chairman, the president and the Democratic Congressional leadership agreed to bolster the system with new revenues and minor benefit changes. Although Reagan and Greenspan both had long disparaged Social Security, they didn't broach the topic of privatization.
Invoking the once-magical names of Reagan and Greenspan may work well on YouTube, particularly among the more gullible segments of the voting public. Between his remarks to the Journal and his video statement, it isn't easy to determine whether McCain means to preserve, reform or destroy Social Security, but the safest assumption is that he will pursue the same objectives President Bush was forced to abandon.
As one of the wealthiest men in the Senate -- thanks to the highly profitable liquor company bequeathed to him and his wife years ago -- McCain faces no economic difficulty. He never has to worry about how he will afford retirement or the value of his assets, which is why risky schemes like privatization look so brilliant to him. But in the coming campaign, he may find that working families have no desire to turn Social Security over to the same companies now seeking bailouts from the federal government -- or to the politicians who would enact that investment bankers' daydream.
© Creators Syndicate
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Albion Monitor April
4, 2008 (http://www.albionmonitor.com)
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