That’s the pickle facing presidential contender Rick Perry.
In a book he wrote last year, “Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America from Washington,” the Texas governor called Social Security a “failure and an “illegal Ponzi scheme,” and questioned the constitutionality of a variety of federal laws. He didn’t think much of legislation on food safety, the minimum wage, child labor bans, environmental protection and Medicare.
Now he’s facing heat from voters troubled by those published opinions. The Los Angeles Times reports that his campaign aides are out doing damage control. His spokesman Ray Sullivan has assured the electorate that the candidate would not try to cut or repeal Social Security if he became president.
“When it comes to Social Security today,” Perry believes there should be “a robust debate about entitlements, a debate about extending the retirement age for younger people and for other changes that will make Social Security and Medicare more stable and financially sound going forward,” the Times quoted Sullivan as saying. “We need to protect benefits for those who are at or near retirement, so they don’t have anything to worry about.”
To further bat away complaints, Sullivan has said the book “is a look back, not a path forward.” It was written “as a review and critique of 50 years of federal excesses, not in any way as a 2012 campaign blueprint or manifesto.”
Here is non-candidate Perry writing about Social Security in “Fed Up!”:
“This unsustainable fiscal insanity is the true legacy of Social Security and the New Deal. Deceptive accounting has hoodwinked the American public into thinking that Social Security is a retirement system and financially sound, when clearly it is not….Now if you say Social Security is a failure, as I have just done, you will inherit the wind of political scorn. Seniors will think you want to cut the benefits they have paid for…We are told that no politician has the courage to raise these issues, even if avoiding them puts us on the fast track to financial ruin. But by remaining quiet, politicians are really saying they think the American people won’t understand it if we share the grim details of our financial future…Is that how we should respect our fellow citizens? By underestimating their intelligence, their desire to retire with greater stability or their commitment to the next generation?”
Greg Sargent of The Post’s Plum Line wonders about another prescription in Perry’s book: repealing the 16th Amendment and replacing the income tax with an alternative tax system. In the book, Perry says the 16th Amendment was “the great milestone on the road to serfdom” because it represented “the birth of wealth redistribution in the United States.”
The controversy isn’t hurting book sales. “Fed Up!”, which has been out since November, hovers today at 342 on the Amazon bestseller list.
Meanwhile, another book is out today that assesses Perry’s campaign approach in his latest run for the Texas statehouse. “Rick Perry and His Eggheads: Inside the Brainiest Political Operation in America” by Sasha Issenberg is an e-book excerpt from Issenberg’s forthcoming “The Victory Lab,” a look at winning elections in the 21st century. The Rick Perry section examines the governor’s use of scientific data and a small group of academics to guide his steps in the campaign.
Rick Perry did a lot of hemming and hawing before he jumped into the presidential race, but we may just have to admit to a sneaking suspicion he’s been planning his run — very carefully — for some time.
Follow me on Twitter (on nonfiction, the publishing industry, and e-reading) @SteveLevingston