With the financial world in an unpredictable crisis, the political debate has shifted sharply to the efficacy of turning government programs over to the private market.
In particular, the Obama campaign has begun highlighting John McCain's support for privatizing Social Security, the venerable government institution known as a third rail of politics.
Appearing in Florida on Saturday, the Democratic nominee warned voters that his opponent's plan would leave the retirement security of senior citizens at the whims of an erratic market.
"I know Senator McCain is talking about a 'casino culture' on Wall Street," said Obama, "but the fact is, he's the one who wants to gamble with your life savings and that is not going to happen when I'm President of the United States."
The McCain campaign has responded to these and other attacks by accusing Obama of fear mongering, repeatedly denying that the Arizona Republican ever supported privatization in the first place.
"He's not ever talked about outsourcing Social Security into the private sector," senior adviser Steve Schmidt told reporters Thursday. "What people talk about with regard to personal accounts is giving the American people an ability to have a greater return on an investment -- it could be bond funds, for example."
But a rarely-seen video in a new documentary released by the group Progressive Accountability, a portion of which was handed over to the Huffington Post, shows this simply isn't true. McCain has in fact argued that privatization is necessary to maintain Social Security into the future.
"Without privatization, I don't see how you can possibly, over time, make sure that young Americans are able to receive Social Security benefits," McCain declares at a December 2004 event in New Hampshire.
"Americans have got to understand that we are paying present day retirees with the taxes paid by young workers in American today. And that's a disgrace. It's an absolute disgrace and it's got to be fixed," he declared on the campaign trail this year.
The footage, part of a documentary called Third Term and narrated by Democratic strategist Paul Begala, is pretty cut and dry, and as such, damaging in the current electoral environment. And there are many other similar quotes out there. This March, for instance, McCain declared: "I'm totally in favor of personal savings accounts...along the lines that President Bush proposed." (Personal savings accounts, it should be noted, became the messaging that Republicans turned to after privatization performed poorly).
And so, McCain and his aides have been handed an uphill challenge this week. Faced with voters concerned about turning over their benefits to an unstable market and an opponent eager to engage in a Social Security debate, the Senator has been left trying to gloss over his past support for privatization and avoid a political minefield.
"We have to have some straight talk for America," said McCain on Wednesday. "The Social Security system is going to go broke. It will not be there for present day men and women who are working. And we have to fix it and we have to do it in a bipartisan fashion."
Watch the full video below.
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