In his 2010 book “Fed Up,”, Texas Gov. Rick Perry didn’t hold back in expressing his scorn for Social Security and Medicare.
Social Security, he wrote, is a “Ponzi scheme,” “a crumbling monument to the failure of the New Deal” created “at the expense of respect for the Constitution and limited government.”
It’s going to be fascinating to see how that language plays out politically. In a recent CNN poll, 64 percent of Americans said they oppose making “major changes in Social Security and Medicare” as a means of addressing the debt problem, while only 35 percent supported the idea. Those numbers suggest that Perry’s statements could become a serious problem in a general election.
(A Wall Street Journal/NBC poll released in March produced similar numbers. Only 18 percent said Medicare cuts were necessary to “significantly reduce” the deficit, while 54 percent said they were not. Just 22 percent said cuts to Social Security were needed, while 49 percent said they weren’t.)
At first glance, you might think that Perry’s position would be a liability in the GOP primary as well. According to the CNN poll, only 42 percent of GOP voters say they would support major changes in Social Security and Medicare, while a large majority of 57 percent reject the idea.
Theoretically, that should open up a two-pronged attack against Perry for somebody like Mitt Romney. By defending Medicare and Social Security against major cuts, Romney could align with a majority within his own party. It would also allow him to make the case that Perry’s extreme position might cost him the general election against Barack Obama.
But Romney hasn’t taken that course, and I don’t think he ever will. Here’s why.
It gets down to the difference between music and lyrics. Lyrics provide the words, but the music is what makes people get up and dance. It’s true in entertainment, and it’s true in politics as well.
If Romney criticizes Perry for taking an extreme view on Social Security and Medicare, he’d be getting the lyrics politically right. However, the music that GOP primary voters would hear is there goes RINO Romney, defending government entitlement programs. It is not a tenable position. It would be like standing in front of the GOP convention and singing “My Country T’is of Thee” to a hiphop beat.
It’s the music that matters.
– Jay Bookman
UPDATE: I should also point out that in the CNN poll, 80 percent of those identifying themselves as tea-party supporters say they support major cuts in domestic programs as a way to cut the deficit.
However, only 47 percent of tea-party supporters back major cuts in Social Security and Medicare; 52 percent oppose it.