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Shame on John McCain

A Times Editorial
Published March 25, 2005


At least President Bush didn't kiss John McCain again. Last year during his re-election campaign, Bush planted one on McCain as the Arizona senator pretended to like his old nemesis. Maybe McCain isn't faking it anymore, because he too easily damaged his reputation for principled straight talk to join Bush's misguided bid to privatize Social Security.

By diverting a portion of payroll taxes from Social Security into the stock market, Bush would add risk to retirement income and burden the program with trillions of dollars of debt. Bush's real purpose is to cut traditional retirement benefits, which could be necessary to control costs, but he won't provide any details on that part of his plan.

Instead, Bush launched one last effort to sell skeptical Americans on private accounts. By his side at several stops was McCain, resorting to the kind of questionable tactics that once had been used against him.

The administration is trying to demonize AARP, which is putting up a spirited fight against private accounts. Bush and McCain suggested that older Americans are standing in the way of change to protect their own retirement incomes - an insulting tactic that could backfire.

Those who have already reached retirement age understand better than anyone that a guaranteed safety net could be as necessary for coming generations as it is now, when nearly two out of three retirees rely largely or solely on Social Security. So they are looking out for their children and grandchildren, an act of responsibility not self-interest.

Shame on McCain for being a part of this effort to divide the generations. Usually noted for candid speech, he even resorted to misinformation when he said in 2042 "we stop paying people Social Security." McCain knows that isn't true.

That is the date (actually it was changed to 2041 the other day) when Social Security reserves are expected to be used up. Even then, with no change in the program, recipients would continue to get about 75 percent of what was promised them.

McCain should be familiar with such tactics. After his surprising showing in the 2000 presidential primary, McCain became the target of a smear campaign in South Carolina. People connected to Bush questioned McCain's patriotism and morality - distorting the facts of his Vietnam War record and his adoption of a Bangladeshi child.

It's too bad McCain didn't lead an honest debate on the challenges facing Social Security. Americans are going to have to face up to the fact that while a crisis is decades away, the program could be made indefinitely sustainable by a combination of increased payroll tax revenues and reasonable benefit cuts. Private accounts are merely a distraction, and the public has apparently figured that out.

Not only is the future of Social Security at stake, but so is McCain's reputation.

[Last modified March 25, 2005, 01:00:17]


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