In today’s USA Today, Texas Gov. Rick Perry begins his op-ed in defense of his Social Security position this way: “The first step to fixing a problem is honestly admitting there is a problem.” The same could be said about his Social Security problem.
For nearly twenty-four hours after last week’s debate, the Perry camp was mute. And, in large part because he hasn’t braved cable or network TV interviews, he didn’t forcefully push back on Mitt Romney’s attack. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) piled on, and still no response from Perry.
The USA Today piece is odd. The Texas governor defends his own candor. (“Americans deserve a frank and honest discussion of the dire financial challenges facing the nearly 80-year-old program. . . I am going to be honest with the American people.”) But he doesn’t repeat the word “Ponzi” or reaffirm that Social Security is a “failure,” as he has previously said. He talks about fixing Social Security. (“We must have the guts to talk about its financial condition if we are to fix Social Security and make it financially viable for generations to come”). But he doesn’t disavow the idea expressed in his book that Social Security could devolve to the states. And there is no hint he thinks Social Security is unconstitutional.
So is Perry walking back his remarks (both verbal and written), or is he doubling down? You can’t quite tell. But he will have to answer in the debate tonight and in subsequent outings.
Perry’s central issue — and it’s a problem for Romney too — is that he’s really not exerting any leadership or showing courage. He writes, “We must have a frank, honest national conversation about fixing Social Security to protect benefits for those at or near retirement while keeping faith with younger generations, who are being asked to pay.” Oh, puh-leez. Haven’t we been discussing entitlements for a good long time.? What is his idea?
It’s not very daring to throw red meat to the base. It’s not real brave to then hedge your bets. What would be courageous and impressive would be to lay out a reform agenda with specifics — on Social Security, Medicare, Medicare, the debt and immigration, among other issues. That would certainly set up a contrast with the president and demonstrate some moxie. Let’s see if he can do it. Let’s see if any of the candidates can do it. Or should they just give up, announce Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) will be the VP pick and he’ll figure it all out? The GOP and the country could do a lot worse.