It’s possible John McCain decided he doesn’t really want to be president after all. It’s a tough, demanding job, and maybe McCain came to the conclusion he’s just not up to the task. It seemed like a good idea to him last year, but maybe he bit off more than he could chew. It’s too late for McCain to bow out, but he can ensure his defeat by saying the most breathtakingly dumb things imaginable.
Take Social Security, for example, one of the most popular and successful government programs in American history. McCain recently said he supports privatizing the system. Then he said, he doesn’t want to privatize the system. Then he said he would privatize the system, he just doesn’t want it to be called privatization.
Listening to him talk, it sounded as if John McCain, after more than a quarter-century in Congress, simply didn’t know how the Social Security system works. And this week, McCain proved that he simply doesn’t know how the Social Security system works.
OK, let’s take a deep breath here. Social Security is a pay-as-you-go system. Current workers pay into the system to provide benefits for retirees, and when those workers retire, the next generation will pay their benefits. That’s what Social Security is. That’s how it works. That’s how it’s always worked.
If McCain wants to argue that privatization is a good idea, fine. He’s wrong, but we can have the debate (again). But it appears that McCain is desperately in need of some kind of remedial Government 101 education, because he literally described the Social Security system as a “total disgrace.”
At this point, John McCain is starting to make George W. Bush look like a sophisticated policy wonk.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. Maybe McCain just slipped up. He was tired and said something he didn’t mean to say. This couldn’t possibly reflect his feelings on the Social Security system. He knows he’d lose Florida if it got out that he considers the system a “total disgrace.”
But it’s true. Here’s how he talked about Social Security on Tuesday morning:
“On the privatization of accounts, which you just mentioned, I would like to respond to that. I want young workers to be able to, if they choose, to take part of their own money which is their taxes and put it in an account which has their name on it. Now, that’s a voluntary thing, it’s for younger people, it would not affect any present-day retirees or the system as necessary. So let’s describe it for what it is. They pay their taxes and right now their taxes are going to pay the retirement of present-day retirees. That’s why it’s broken, that’s why we can fix it.” [emphasis added]
It’s breathtaking. As Nick Baumann put it, “McCain is saying, again, that the problem with Social Security is that Social Security is Social Security, instead of something else.”
I know many political debates focus on subjective matters of opinion, but let’s make this abundantly clear: what McCain is saying doesn’t make any sense. It’s complete and total nonsense. The poor man is utterly clueless.
As for what happens next, my reaction was the same as publius’:
…I’m hoping that an intrepid member of the press corps will ask John “Details” McCain a simple question: “You said that the way Social Security has been funded for the past 75 years is a ‘total disgrace.’ In your view, how exactly should it be funded?” And if he starts mumbling about private accounts and market returns, the reporter should follow up by asking how he intends to cover the short-term resulting gap.
Quite right. Keep in mind, however, that McCain made his “total disgrace” comment in a town-hall meeting, with a phalanx of reporters in tow, and not one of them reported on his comments in any way. Literally, zero.