In an interview yesterday, Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) explicitly used the word "crisis" in reference to Social Security, seemingly contradicting a progressive refrain that such talk is a red herring advanced by proponents of privatization.
"You know, Senator Clinton says that she's concerned about Social Security but is not willing to say how she would solve the Social Security crisis," Obama told the National Journal. "I think voters aren't going to feel real confident that this is a priority for her."
Less than two weeks ago, Obama seemed to take the opposite position. "I absolutely agree that Social Security is not in crisis," he said during the most recent Democratic debate.
Yet Obama has frequently addressed what he describes as a Social Security funding shortfall, which many experts say is overstated. "I can't understand how Obama can be this out of touch," economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman wrote recently. "As a political matter, I don't understand why he would essentially try to undermine the first big victory progressives won against the Bush administration and the rightward tilt of the Beltway consensus."
Obama's campaign insisted that the senator was not identifying a crisis in Social Security, and that he has consistently opposed privatization. But it also delivered a veiled shot at Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) for not addressing the issue in detail.
Obama "believes the Social Security solvency shortfall is a real but manageable problem, and he has laid out a specific plan for addressing it," the spokeman told the Huffington Post in a statement. "Instead of avoiding tough subjects and taking different positions in front of different audiences, Barack Obama believes that presidential candidates should be clear with the American people about the challenges we face."
That wasn't good enough for fellow campaign rival Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT), whose campaign said in a statement: "It is, frankly, irresponsible to say there is a 'Social Security crisis' when there are those who are looking to pounce on such characterizations as a justification for privatization."