I don’t know what the internal polls are telling the Kerry camp, but they are getting increasingly shrill and desperate in their arguments – Kerry doesn’t want to talk about his secret plans for everything, but he loves to talk about the Draft, Social Security, and to try to blame the President for flu vaccines (firstly a very minor concern, and secondly not something that one would consider within the Presidential orbit).
His stuff is so bad even the New York Times felt compelled to call him on it – although getting in a few little asides, they did pretty well (see my thread on Flu Vaccines for some thoughts on why we actually are facing a shortage this year).
Kerry Goes Beyond Some of Bush Positions
By DAVID E. ROSENBAUM and DAVID M. HALBFINGER
Published: October 19, 2004
WASHINGTON, Oct. 18 - After weeks of facing attacks that his campaign and outside commentators called distortions, Senator John Kerry has begun criticizing President Bush on Social Security and the draft in a manner that reaches far beyond Mr. Bush’s positions.
Mr. Kerry may also have exaggerated the president’s responsibility for the shortage of flu vaccine.
On Social Security, Mr. Kerry said over the weekend that Mr. Bush planned a “January surprise” that could cost retirees up to 45 percent of their monthly checks. On the draft, Mr. Kerry told The Des Moines Register last week that there was “the great potential of the draft” if Mr. Bush won a second term. And on the vaccine, Mr. Kerry has maintained for days that the president ignored warnings of a shortage.
“As John Kerry loses momentum and slips in the polls,” a spokesman for the Bush campaign, Steve Schmidt, said, “he’s grasping at issues in the headlines and makes a series of false and baseless attacks.”
The truth is that Mr. Bush has promised not to cut the Social Security benefits of current retirees or those nearing retirement age. He said flatly in the debate on Wednesday that he had no plans to reinstate military conscription.
And as for the vaccine shortage, experts say Congress is as much to blame as the president for allowing domestic manufacturers to stop production. In his years in the Senate, Mr. Kerry apparently never addressed the matter, either.
A campaign spokesman, David Wade, said Mr. Kerry had not changed tactics but had simply seized on issues at the top of the news to illustrate that Mr. Bush “refuses to take the blame for anything” and “consistently misleads the American people on important issues.”
Mr. Kerry’s accusation on Social Security grew out of an article on Sunday in The New York Times Magazine in which the president was quoted as telling a group of Republican donors at a private meeting last month, “I’m going to come out strong after my swearing-in with fundamental tax reform, tort reform, privatizing of Social Security.”
Mr. Schmidt said Mr. Bush had been misquoted and had never used the word “privatization” to describe his policy.
At a church in Columbus, Ohio, on Sunday, Mr. Kerry jumped on the passage. “The president’s privatization plan for Social Security is another way of saying to our seniors that the promise of security is going to be broken,” he said. “Even the president’s own economic advisers say that this’ll blow a $2 trillion hole in Social Security.”
He asserted that the plan could cost retirees “up to $500 a month” that would otherwise be spent “for food, for clothing, for a grandchild.”
For decades, Democrats have found mileage in painting Republicans as threats to Social Security.
Since his 2000 campaign, Mr. Bush has advocated allowing workers to put some of their Social Security tax money into personal retirement accounts that could be invested in the private markets. The theory is that Social Security payments would be reduced but that the shortfall would be more than offset by the increased earnings over the years from the private investments.
Mr. Bush has never endorsed a specific plan and has insisted that benefits for current retirees and people near retirement age would never be reduced.
A policy specialist on Mr. Kerry’s campaign staff, Jason Furman, said Mr. Kerry was relying on a study this year by the Congressional Budget Office of one of three plans developed by a commission that Mr. Bush established in 2001 to study establishing personal accounts under Social Security. This plan was also analyzed this year in the annual Economic Report of the President. Mr. Furman said it was fair for Mr. Kerry to use figures from this plan, even though the president has not embraced it, because it was the only one that staff experts in Congress and the White House had analyzed.
The analyses showed that the plan would cost the government $2 trillion - the number Mr. Kerry used - to keep paying benefits to retirees while part of workers’ taxes went to their personal accounts. The analyses also showed that a 34-year-old now earning the median national income could expect $342 less each month in government retirement benefits. Younger people would have their benefits cut even more.
Mr. Kerry’s implication, though he did not explicitly say it, was that current retirees would have their benefits cut if Mr. Bush won.
In the Des Moines interview, Mr. Kerry said, “With George Bush, the plan for Iraq is more of the same and the great potential of the draft, because if we go it alone, I don’t know how you do it with the current overextension” of the military.
Everyone agrees that the Army is overextended. But Mr. Bush insisted in the debate on Oct. 8: “We’re not going to have a draft, period. The all-volunteer Army works.”
In any event, the chances are extremely remote that Congress would approve a general draft.
On Friday, Mike McCurry, a spokesman for the Kerry campaign, suggested that Mr. Kerry was “not alleging that there’s a secret plan or anything like that” for the draft but simply mentioning a possibility in answer to a question from the paper.
Even so, a group that supports Mr. Kerry, Win Back Respect, said its advertising in swing states raised prospects restarting the draft.
Over the weekend, Mr. Kerry began ridiculing Mr. Bush about the vaccine shortage, and his campaign began a television spot calling the problem “a George Bush mess.” Yesterday, Mr. Kerry offered his plan, including a government promise to buy excess serum from manufacturers and create a stockpile.
Mr. Kerry is correct about warnings of a shortage over the last year. But like Mr. Bush, he never raised the issue until it erupted. Mr. Bush said in the debate last week that the ultimate cause of the shortage was manufacturers’ fears of lawsuits.
Experts said that was not a main reason to halt production, because a law already offers government protection against such liability.
Mr. Kerry’s camp spread the word yesterday that the National Vaccine Advisory Committee of the Health and Human Services Department had reported the litigation threat was not a cause of the shortage.
That report was dated January 2003. It said, “Current vaccine shortages do not appear to be liability related.” Two sentences before that, it said, “Today, litigation again threatens stability of the vaccine program in the form of class-action lawsuits.”