Obama and the Crisis

OBAMA AND THE CRISIS….Jonathan Singer asked Barack Obama on Wednesday about his use of the word “crisis” to define Social Security. Here’s what he said:

I know that people, including you, are very sensitive to the concern that we repeat anything that sounds like George Bush. But I have been very clear in fighting privatization. I have been adamant about the fact that I am opposed to it. What I believe is that it is a long-term problem that we should deal with now. And the sooner the deal with it then the better off it’s going to be.

So the notion that somehow because George Bush was trying to drum up fear in order to execute [his] agenda means that Democrats shouldn’t talk about it at all I think is a mistake. This is part of what I meant when I said we’re constantly reacting to the other side instead of setting our own terms for the debate, but also making sure we are honest and straight forward about the issues that we’re concerned about.

This is clever rhetorical jujitsu. No, we bloggers don’t like the Republican “crisis” framing, but we also hate the idea that Republicans often get to set the terms of debate in American politics. By casting his use of Republican language as a demonstration of independence from Republican language, Obama is demonstrating that he’s really one of us even when he’s supporting a policy we don’t like. I’m impressed — even if I hope he doesn’t make a habit of this.

But I’ll add one thing. I’m on record (several hundred times, probably) saying that Social Security is basically fine and that the best thing we can do is just leave it alone and then revisit it in a decade or so. At the same time, I don’t think any of us would (or should) have any serious problem with, say, a 1983-style commission that beavered away for a year and then recommended a basket of modest tax increases and benefit reductions to keep Social Security solvent for the rest of the century. In fact, if it were enough to get Tim Russert to shut up about the whole thing, it might even be worth it.

In other words, this is small potatoes, more a matter of style than substance. As with Hillary’s tip or Edwards’ house, it’s the kind of thing we really shouldn’t get too preoccupied with. We have bigger fish to fry.