By Scott Hochberg
No matter how fatigued the rest of the country is with the endless Republican debate schedule, Mitt Romney must be looking forward to tonight’s face-off in New Hampshire. Despite reports that he is losing ground in some states to Herman Cain and others, Romney knows he has nothing to fear in New Hampshire. Pundits expect him to continue his above-the-fray act while letting his challengers duke it out for King-of-the-Right-Wing. That the media has latched onto this narrative so tightly is disappointing, since even a glance at the candidates’ records shows them often to be apples from the same tree, differing more in rhetoric than actual substance. Case in point: Social Security.
Romney has repeatedly claimed that he is the man to “save Social Security,” insisting that the real danger to the program would come through turning the program into a “Perry scheme.” Yet the policy differences between Romney and Perry are actually not so deep. While Romney does not refer to Social Security explicitly as a Ponzi scheme (Perry’s language), he does compare it to a “criminal fraud,” and suggests if a bank account had been managed in the same way as Social Security, those bankers should go to prison.
Romney has also supported the creation of private retirement accounts, both in years past (when the public was busy rejecting that idea in 2005) and even today, though he is more careful about his language these days. In his book written just last year, he wrote that “individual retirement accounts would encourage more American to invest in the private sector that powers our economy.” And the last time he was running for President, he endorsed President Bush’s push for privatized accounts as a “good idea.” What’s more, Romney would also consider raising the retirement age and means testing Social Security as a way to close the program’s modest shortfall. Romney is full of ideas which may sound reasonable, but are at their base are fundamental, structural changes to Social Security.
Some have doubted the fairness of attacking Romney for statements made four years ago, or even of citing sections from his book to make those claims. After all, he’s evolved as a candidate since then – maybe his views have changed, right? But Romney himself doesn’t play by those rules. He often quotes verbatim from Gov. Perry’s book to score points on Social Security; why isn’t it legitimate for him to be confronted in the same way? Also, Romney’s book in which he airs out many of his policy ideas was published in 2010 as a campaign manifesto, clearly intended to be the platform for his Presidential bid. If that isn’t fair game, what is?
Don’t be fooled by all the maneuvering on Social Security that will no doubt happen tonight and in future debates. As much as Romney wants to play Social Security’s savior to Perry’s menace, the truth is that there’s really not much separating the two at all.