I'm becoming increasingly concerned about the stridency and inaccuracy of charges in Iowa -- especially coming from my old friend. While I'm as hard-boiled as they come about what's said in campaigns, I just don't think Dems should stoop to this. First, HRC attacked O's plan for keep Social Security solvent. Social Security doesn't need a whole lot to keep it going -- it's in far better shape than Medicare -- but everyone who's looked at it agrees it will need bolstering (I was a trustee of the Social Security Trust Fund 10 years ago, and I can vouch for this). Obama wants to do it by lifting the cap on the percent of income subject to Social Security payroll taxes, which strikes me as sensible. That cap is now close to $98,000 (it's indexed), and the result is highly regressive. (Bill Gates satisfies his yearly Social Security obligations a few minutes past midnight on January 1 every year.) The cap doesn't have to be lifted all that much to keep Social Security solvent -- maybe to $115,00. That's a progressive solution to the problem. HRC wants to refer Social Security to a commission. That's avoiding the issue, and it's irresponsible: a commission will likely call either for raising the retirement age (that's what Greenspan's Social Security commission came up with in the 1980s) or increasing the payroll tax on all Americans. So when HRC charges that Obama's plan would "raise taxes" and her plan wouldn't, she's simply not telling the truth.
I'm equally concerned about her attack on his health care plan. She says his would insure fewer people than hers. I've compared the two plans in detail. Both of them are big advances over what we have now. But in my view Obama's would insure more people, not fewer, than HRC's. That's because Obama's puts more money up front and contains sufficient subsidies to insure everyone who's likely to need help -- including all children and young adults up to 25 years old. Hers requires that everyone insure themselves. Yet we know from experience with mandated auto insurance -- and we're learning from what's happening in Massachusetts where health insurance is now being mandated -- that mandates still leave out a lot of people at the lower end who can't afford to insure themselves even when they're required to do so. HRC doesn't indicate how she'd enforce her mandate, and I can't find enough money in HRC's plan to help all those who won't be able to afford to buy it. I'm also impressed by the up-front investments in information technology in O's plan, and the reinsurance mechanism for coping with the costs of catastrophic illness. HRC is far less specific on both counts. In short: They're both advances, but O's is the better of the two. HRC has no grounds for alleging that O's would leave out 15 million people.
Yesterday, HRC suggested O lacks courage. "There's a big difference between our courage and our convictions, what we believe and what we're willing to fight for," she told reporters in Iowa, saying Iowa voters will have a choice "between someone who talks the talk, and somebody who's walked the walk." Then asked whether she intended to raise questions about O's character, she said: "It's beginning to look a lot like that."
I just don't get it. If there's anyone in the race whose history shows unique courage and character, it's Barack Obama. HRC's campaign, by contrast, is singularly lacking in conviction about anything. Her pollster, Mark Penn, has advised her to take no bold positions and continuously seek the political center, which is exactly what she's been doing.
All is fair in love, war, and politics. But this series of slurs doesn't serve HRC well. It will turn off voters in Iowa, as in the rest of the country. If she's worried her polls are dropping, this is not the way to build them back up.
This post first appeared on Robert Reich's blog.