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GOP Debate Pre-game: Will Romney & Bachmann Road Test DNC Talking Points?


Tonight, CNN and Tea Party Express co-host a debate of GOP candidates in Tampa, FL, site of the upcoming GOP convention. I’m not really sure how the ‘tea party’ is going to be represented in this debate, since the moderators are pulled from CNN, but there is no way it can be any worse than the MSNBC/Politico forum last week. In that fiasco, John Harris and Brian Williams drew deeply from lefty activists like ThinkProgress to launch attacks on the GOP candidates. It was as if the DNC had done a mind-meld with Harris and Williams (redundant, I know!), and got 90+ minutes to prospect for material for negative campaign ads.

Color me naive, but CNN is not MSNBC. Liberal, sure. But, it at least tries not to seem totally in the tank for the left, unlike Politico and MSNBC. So, I don’t think the DNC will own the same real estate in Wolf Blitzer’s brain as it had in Harris/Williams. Then again, according to news reports today, it won’t have to. Amazingly, two leading candidates for the GOP nomination, Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann, look set to take a page from the DNC and ThinkProgress playbook and attack Gov. Rick Perry for daring to speak the truth about Social Security. Below is a flier the Romney campaign is distributing in Florida.

And, yesterday, Bachmann’s campaign had this to say to Byron York:

“Bernie Madoff deals with Ponzi schemes, not the grandparents of America,” says a Bachmann adviser. “Clearly she feels differently about the value of Social Security than Gov. Perry does. She believes Social Security needs to be saved, that it’s an important safety net for Americans who have paid into it all their lives.” … “She strongly disagrees with his position on that…”

So let me get this straight; we now have TWO GOP candidates against any kind of entitlement reform? Really? We can’t begin to get out from under our overwhelming debt burden unless we tackle these auto-pilot programs. You could close every government agency and slash defense spending in half and we’re still screwed if we don’t reform Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. How can Romney or Bachmann seek to be President if they don’t understand this basic fact? I mean, its not just a theory…its math.

Of course, they do understand this. Just as everyone in DC understands that these programs are unsustainable. You could fill every hour of the day attending conferences and meetings in DC where everyone discusses how our entitlement programs are killing us. For decades, there have been warnings, white papers and commissions detailing this very open secret. Seriously, EVERYONE knows this.

Gov. Perry simply had the chutzpah to admit it publicly. Michael Kinsley once famously observed that, in Washington, a gaffe is when a politician accidentally states the truth. Gov. Perry has done that. He has admitted what everyone already knows; Social Security IS a ponzi scheme, in any meaningful understanding of the term. We can’t “fix” it or “save” it until we admit this simple fact.

Now, I know supporters of Romney and Bachmann will counter that the candidates aren’t against entitlement reform, per se. And, I’m sure they have paragraphs of focus-group-tested words about the need to “reform” these programs. The problem is that we’ve heard similar talk from politicians for decades. Damn near 100% of the people elected to office over the last 30 years, from both parties, have publicly agreed that we need to “reform” entitlements. Hell, even Obama says this. The problem, though, is that no one ever does anything about it.

So, to a degree, Romney and Bachmann’s rhetoric is just standard operating procedure for politicians. Except, they are flirting with a dangerous game that is far worse. They are demagoguing the issue for short-term political advantage. They are exploiting DNC talking points and trying to terrify seniors into securing the GOP nomination for President. How can you possibly “reform” entitlements if your candidacy is based on scaring people about changes to these very programs? Were either to become President, there would be no mandate to reform entitlements. In fact, there would be an opposite mandate. Its the status quo that’s killing us. If 2012 is about anything, preserving the status quo ain’t it.

The other thing Romney and Bachmann are missing is that Gov. Perry is right on the politics of this. For decades, the American public has been fed a steady diet of happy-talk from politicians. And, the public sees where we are. The happy-talk isn’t working. It is long past time for politicians to come clean with the public. My sense is that the public is ready for this. Decisions over the next 18 months will determine whether we are again that “shiny city on the hill” or whether we are Detroit. DC consultants may not understand this…but the public does.

Let the truth set you free.

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