The number-one topic at tonight's CNN Republican debate is expected to be Social Security, after Mitt Romney and Rick Perry have been attacking each other's stance on the program over the days since the last debate. Michele Bachmann and Tim Pawlenty have also got in on the act, both whacking Perry and defending Social Security.
Granted, Social Security has always been a controversial subject. It's not surprising that Perry has gained a lot of attention, both favorable and skeptical, for calling it a "Ponzi scheme" and a "monstrous lie." It's obvious why both Romney and Perry would consider it to their advantage to go back and forth over Social Security.
But look, Social Security just isn't the most pressing item in the agenda. The actuarial problems with Social Security have been obvious since the Greenspan Commission wrapped up its business. Neither the Obama presidency or the recession has done much to alter the terms of the debate on Social Security.
Health care, financial regulation, stimulus spending, and a number of other issues, however, have all taken on heightened importance in the Obama era. Obamacare is a far more greater entitlement problem than Social Security. Furthermore, Romney has never been effectively challenged on how he would reform Obamacare given his own track record on health care. None of the candidates have talked much about the Dodd-Frank financial regulation bill, which could prove to be as harmful as Obamacare in the long run. And as Obama unveils the actual legislation for another $450 billion in stimulus spending this morning, you would think that Romney, Perry, et al. would feel obligated to sketch out what they would do differently, or at least make the case that Obama's doing something wrong.
That's all without mentioning that Obama is overseeing what certainly seems to be an illegal military campaign in Libya, along with fighting a war in Afghanistan and ending another war in Iraq. Romney's thoughts on fighting another war in an "Arab Spring" country, for example, are far more consequential than whether or not he'd describe Social Security as a Ponzi scheme. Yet the Republican hopefuls have only gestured at foreign policy goals, principles, etc., and they really haven't been asked to elaborate.
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