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The ‘Reform’ McCain Wants to Forget

Posted on Sep 17, 2008

By Joe Conason

With the markets in frightening turmoil and the public outraged by financial irresponsibility and excessive greed, John McCain has suddenly rediscovered the importance of strong, watchful government. Only six months ago, he assured The Wall Street Journal that he was generally opposed to regulation, but today he is ready to control executive compensation, defend 401(k) accounts from corporate predators and impose renewed federal oversight of errant markets.

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This populist rhetoric sounds strange, especially when emitted by a politician whose circle of advisers include former Sen. Phil Gramm, a vice president of the scandal-tainted Union Bank of Switzerland, and John Thain, chief executive of the firm formerly known as Merrill Lynch. But when facing the angry voters who have watched their savings evaporate, the conservative Republican hopes to sound like a liberal Democrat.

He wants to blur the differences between himself and Barack Obama on fundamental economic philosophy. But there is one critical issue on which the Arizonan has established a record that cannot be escaped so easily.

Sen. McCain wants to privatize Social Security. It is a stance he has repeatedly taken over the past 10 years in recorded votes, interviews, speeches and documents. It is also a position that he will deny in this campaign. In fact he tried to deny it at a June town hall meeting in New Hampshire when he declared, “I’m not for, quote, privatizing Social Security. I never have been. I never will be.” But the contrary evidence is overwhelming.

As long ago as 1998, several years before the Bush administration sought to promote privatization, he voted to partially replace Social Security with private accounts. He included privatization in the economic platform of his 2000 presidential campaign. He spoke out in support of the White House’s ill-fated push for privatization during the spring of 2005. And when that plan started to sink into oblivion, despite an advertising and public relations budget that exceeded $50 million, he tried to save it.


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Sen. McCain was still pushing the Bush plan earlier this year, when he needed to persuade his own party’s ultra-rightists to accept him as their nominee. During the same interview when he told The Wall Street Journal editors that he generally opposes regulation, he explained his plan to “reform” Social Security. “I believe that private savings accounts are a part of it,” he said, “along the lines that President Bush proposed.”

Obviously such remarks no longer serve McCain’s political purposes, and certainly won’t attract voters, who never liked the Bush plan—and probably like those ideas even less as they watch the market ravage their pension funds and equity accounts. Listening to the Republican nominee promise this week to “protect” their retirement accounts, they might wonder how he would do that when so much of the value of those accounts had disappeared already. They might also wonder what would happen to the elderly and other beneficiaries of Social Security if the privatizers like him had succeeded in consigning their future to the same Wall Street sharks he now denounces for their greed and irresponsibility.

For Sen. Obama, this moment presents a crucial opportunity to draw the most important distinctions between himself and his opponent as well as between Democrats and Republicans. By going after McCain on Social Security, he can assure those Democrats with the deepest doubts about him—older white working-class voters—that he is on their side and can be trusted to understand their concerns. And, of course, the Social Security theme fits well with the broader Obama indictment of McCain as an echo of the president’s failed policies—because on this issue, the Arizona senator has indeed echoed Bush, not only this year but for many years.

More broadly, Obama needs to convince voters that he has a program to address the economic crisis—and tell them why Democratic solutions are not only in their interest but in the national interest. This is a chance for him to explain how progressive solutions work—how shared prosperity made America strong and productive during the century when we became the wealthiest and most powerful nation in the world. He should place responsibility for stagnation and decline where it belongs—on the Republican policies that have created staggering inequality.

And he should emphasize that by every measure, Democratic administrations over the past hundred years have achieved measurably more economic success than Republican administrations—not only with better budgeting and fairer taxation, but even in the growth of equity values. Stock prices usually rise when a Democrat is president.

The history is so clear that it is hard to understand why any investment banker or broker votes Republican. But then we’ve learned lately that they aren’t necessarily so smart, after all.

Joe Conason writes for The New York Observer.

© 2008 Creators Syndicate Inc.

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By JNagarya, September 20, 2008 at 4:21 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“excessive greed”.

Many Christian sects view greed as a “mortal sin” - not “almost mortal,” or “only a little mortal,” but unqualifiedly mortal. 

And they make no distinction between “greed” and “exceseive greed”.

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By diamond, September 18, 2008 at 2:25 pm Link to this comment

All you need to know to understand the financial crisis is this: the US has been spending $1 billion a WEEK on oil just to move its equipment around Iraq. On top of that there’s Afghanistan and now Pakistan where the imbecile Bush and the Dark Prince Cheney also now have US troops on the ground. To what purpose? Well, my guess is they think it will help McCain win the election: especially if they can kill someone who almost resembles bin Laden. I can see the video now. The question is, how black will the corpse’s beard be? It’s tricky faking videos. Details matter.

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By KennellyB, September 18, 2008 at 8:25 am Link to this comment

If Senator John McCain believes the American people are the victims of ‘greed, excess, and corruption on Wall Street’ how can he continue to justify his support for a plan which would send billions of Social Security dollars to Wall Street through private accounts?

Social Security privatization would put retirees’ guaranteed benefits in the hands of the very same people Senator McCain chastises today. Investing on Wall Street has always been and continues to be a gamble, which is why the American people rejected Social Security private accounts years ago.  Yet privatization remains a part of the GOP platform and Senator McCain’s Social Security strategy.

Senator McCain can’t have it both ways.  We deserve a straight answer on how Senator McCain will protect America’s true social contract, which exists between generations of working families who’ve contribute to and depend on Social Security, without destroying that contract through privatization.

We can only hope these inconsistencies will be discussed in the upcoming debates.

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By Paul_GA, September 18, 2008 at 8:05 am Link to this comment

“Strong, watchful” government, Mr. Conason? We have that—-the surveillance state G.W. Bush has set up to keep an eye on us!

There’s no such thing as a “strong, watchful” government which is also a free government; the two are incompatible. Bush said in 1999 that “there ought to be limits on freedom”, and he’s certainly laid them on as thickly and as heavily as he can. Had he had more than eight years, we’d surely wind up in a dictatorship—-we’re close to one now. McCain may spread the icing on the cake which Bush baked; not that I expect Obama to be any better.

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By Jim Yell, September 18, 2008 at 6:32 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

He doesn’t understand economics, but he knows that our economy is basically sound. What he doesn’t know is that the War Debt hasn’t even began to be serviced.

Phil Grahamcracker is his economic guru apparently and of course is the author of much of the degregulation that has brought the economy to its knees. If you buy a company and start making money, lots of money by selling off the assets, you are deconstructing you are not constructing. You are living off the present and not attending to the future.

The policies encouraged by Phil Graham and others is the policy of a leach, sucking the life blood until there is nothing but a lifeless form. Too greedy and too mean to care.

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By WeMustChange, September 18, 2008 at 6:25 am Link to this comment

Your help is needed.  If you’re ready for change, please share this video with all of your family and friends.

Here’s a community organizer that’s reached out to over 20,000 youth and has a goal of touching a million by teaching them the game of life using the game of chess. Click below to watch video.

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By JS, September 18, 2008 at 4:43 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Would someone please tell McCain where Spain is?

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By SamSnedegar, September 18, 2008 at 3:34 am Link to this comment

guess of whom McC reminds me:

Al Gore.

No, not the Al Gore who invented the internet, found Love Canal, or served as model for Love Story, but the very same Al Gore who wanted to rip a Cuban boy from his father’s arms just to get votes from the Cuban bloc in Miami—-which bloc ALSO didn’t care about Elian Gonzalez, but wanted to “keep” him just to stick their thumbs in Castro’s eye.

Fat Albert really would do nearly anything to get elected president, and now we see that the saintly McCain is cut from the same bolt of cloth.

I doubt that McC will go on to win a Nobel though….

And I doubt that McC will be allowed to become president either; I suspect that the Bushitters will off him with a secret potion, as presumably they did to Ken Lay when he threatened to out them to force them to keep him safe from a prison sentence.

Jebbie Bush seems finally to have surfaced; maybe he will be anointed Emperor when the Bushitter gang of thugs decides to change puppets dictators.

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By nrobi, September 18, 2008 at 1:15 am Link to this comment

It is now time for a people’s revolution. This form of government has exceeded its limit of usefulness and equity.
The problem is now, how to do away with the uber-rich that are controlling the market, and the corporate welfare system instituted by the administration of the shrub and Darth Vader.
The people, we the people, deserve a better form of representative government than that which will give the avaricious money-grubbing investment bankers a pass on the fact that they just this last year gave themselves 100’s of billions of dollars of bonuses for doing nothing and reaping the rewards of raping the people of their money.
I for one, will be happy to participate in letting the investment bankers know that they are not true Americans and hopefully the next president, Barack Obama, will hold these people to task for their obscene and absolutely unmasked greed.
Should the next president be John McCain, of the Keating Five Scandal fame, please if you are not old enough to remember, just google Keating Five, we will become a third world country in a matter of months and be at the mercy of China and Russia, for the games that unregulated and unrestrained free-market capitalism have played.
The piper is now wanting his pay and the investment bankers cannot pay the debts they have incurred, the losses they have made happen and the ideals that they have crushed, due to their greedy and avaricious natures.

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By Marc Schlee, September 18, 2008 at 12:20 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

That’s the sound of Tweety McCain pulling his thumb out of his ass and flip flopping in the issue of government regulation.



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