Romney Plans to Scare Seniors
Rick Perry's surge in the polls is spooking Mitt Romney. His strategists are sharpening knives, getting ready to fillet Perry on the key issues of Social Security and Medicare. Before Sarah Palin backers get tingles up their legs, understand that when Romney levels attacks on Perry about big government programs, he's attacking conservatives generally. And if Romney is willing to go after Perry, he'll more than happily go after Sarah Palin, if she jumps into the race -- or any other true-blue conservative -- if the need arises.
Mind you, Romney would rather see Perry self-destruct or another Republican carve up Perry, as was reported by the Washington Post. But Romney is prepared to do the dirty work himself if it means stopping Perry.
Mitt Romney plans to position Perry as the nemisis of seniors; you know, the Darth Vader candidate who wants to gut Social Security and Medicare and leave granny on the streets. The scare tactic is about as old as, well, Social Security and Medicare.
The meat of Romney's coming attack on Perry over Social Security and Medicare revolves around Perry's opinions (discussed in Perry's book, Fed Up!) that Social Security has failed, has been forced upon citizens, runs contrary to the Constitution, and tramples the principles of limited government. Does Perry's assessment scare grassroots conservatives? Hardly.
And is the Texas governor -- a devout Christian -- wanting to do what Romney will at least imply, toss old Aunt Bertha and Uncle Fred into homeless shelters?
As reported by the Los Angeles Times, Perry said this about Social Security:
"You don't have to worry about anything," Perry told an older man who asked him to explain his position during a visit to Harvey's, a coffee shop in Dover. "There's not going to be any changes in the program that we've got for folks that are your age. We'll have a conversation with the rest of the country about what is the age that we start transitioning away from the program we've got now."
Can Mitt Romney find fault with Rick Perry's sensible argument that reform needs to come to Social Security, but that seniors and those near retirement need to have their benefits protected? Romney might want to pick a fight with the Heritage Foundation or other conservative groups who hold similar positions to Perry's.
While some Republicans in the past haven't been hesitant to make the "kill granny" charge against fellow Republicans for electoral advantage, it's mostly Democrats who raise the specter of dog food -- or worse -- and cardboard tents under overpasses for the nation's senior citizens if even slight reforms are made to Social Security or Medicare. Democrats are also not averse to lying about Republicans, making claims against them about senior entitlements.
Romney is quite willing to tear a page from the Democrats' playbook to waylay a conservative opponent. But in doing so, Romney might well be boxing himself in to do very little as president to solve the looming crises in Social Security and Medicare.
Of course, if elected president, Romney, could "discover" that the two senior entitlements are in far worse shape than he could have imagined as a candidate and require remedial action. This maneuver -- discovering a problem is worse after assuming office -- is another shopworn ploy by conventional politicians. But with the economy on the verge of another serious swoon, and government dangerously over-extended, the nation isn't in ordinary times, where artful evasions and tagging fellow conservatives (Romney fancies himself a conservative) as anti-old people is the ticket.
Extraordinary times call for candidates who have the spine to acknowledge the nation's problems and challenges; who don't retreat into comfortable political formulas and game-playing for short-term political advantages. In dire times like these, the Romney-Democrat approach of scaring seniors half to death may still reap political rewards, but it does nothing to solve the mounting underlying problems with Social Security and Medicare. Without meaningful reform of those two entitlements, seniors' worse fears will come true, as the nation's taxpayers can no longer sustain trillions in costs to meet Social Security's and Medicare's expanding obligations.
The cold, hard reality is that taxpayers and the economy simply can't produce the trillions in revenues that both programs will consume in the years ahead. Fundamental reform must come to those entitlements, or collapse will come. On the stump, grassroots conservatives should press Romney to choose between reform or collapse.
Mitt Romney's smart and a successful businessman. He knows that as currently configured, Social Security and Medicare are doomed. Both programs need to be transformed for younger Americans while oldsters are protected. No easy trick. Reform isn't merely tinkering with eligibility and inflation formulas. Reform means putting in place ways for young Americans to take from their Social Security earnings to invest privately and making private sector old age health insurance a viable alternative to Medicare.
If Romney launches attacks on Perry over Social Security and Medicare, he'll reveal himself as both cynical and another die-cast establishment Republican. The latter is no revelation, you say, given Romney's government-dominated health care fiasco in Massachusetts. But Romney awfully needs conservatives' backing; he needs to appeal to grassroots conservatives who have every reason to make it to caucuses and polls come January. Grassroots conservatives will decide who the GOP presidential nominee is.
Keep in mind that Perry won't sit still while Romney attempts to color Perry as an enemy of old people. Perry, a former Democrat like Ronald Reagan, long ago read the Democrat playbook on Social Security and Medicare scare tactics. Perry's an adroit politician who will counter immediately and aggressively when Romney lowers the entitlements boom. And given Romney's checkered record as Massachusetts governor, there's plenty for Perry to counter with.
Mitt Romney even considering attacking Perry over Social Security and Medicare pegs him as the Republican establishment's last, best hope to retain dominance in the GOP and as the alternative to the forever left-sailing Democratic Party. Some alternative, Establishment Republicanism, which long ago accepted that after FDR, big government was never going away. Rein it in a little, at times, yes. Grow it a little, when politically expedient, yes. Play the scold and Dutch Uncle when Democrats run wild, but that's about it.
Grassroots conservatives have grown well past their Republican establishment cousins. Yes, perhaps to Mitt Romney's astonishment, grassroots conservatives actually believe a return to a stricter adherence to the Constitution and a revival of limited government are the ways to go. If Romney goes after Perry on Social Security and Medicare -- then Palin, if she joins the fray -- he'll find out that grassroots conservatives have quickly outgrown him.