Handed a plate full of difficult-to-sell -- if not generally unpopular -- legislative items, Democrats have chosen to campaign on process as much as policy, homing in on topics like the financing of campaigns as opposed to, say, health care or financial regulatory reform.
In the background has remained Social Security, a policy on which the party not only earns the broad trust of the voting public but also has the 2005 privatization debate to serve as political guidance. The actual question of whether or not to reform the entitlement program has been formally pushed till after the election, when the president's fiscal commission will offer its insights. But at various points during the past few months, Democratic leadership has tried to elevate the topic as a campaign issue. Monday is one of those points.
In a campaign spearheaded by Kentucky Senate candidate Jack Conway and organized with Social Security Works and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, more than 200 Democratic candidates for Congress have now formally signed a petition opposing any cuts or adjustments of Social Security benefits.
"With a Tea Party deep on the fringe, the way for Democrats to win in 2010 is to have a spine -- and go on offense," reads an email authored by Conway and sent out to PCCC members Monday morning. "That's why today, I am proud to announce with my friends at the Progressive Change Campaign Committee that over 200 congressional candidates and members of Congress are promising to oppose any cuts to Social Security.
"We're saying no privatization, no raising the retirement age, no messing with the best program for seniors and workers in American history -- and no mincing words about it."
There is a certain symbolism to the collaboration. Conway is not the type of doctrinaire liberal that the PCCC typically supports. On the debate over what to do with the expiring Bush tax cuts, for instance, he and the group find themselves on opposite ends.
But the strict notion of protecting Social Security has been one of the few galvanizing policy platforms for Democrats. And in addition to Conway, every non-incumbent Senate candidate except two -- Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Joe Sestak (D-Penn.) -- have signed the petition. The absence of those two names, a PCCC spokesman said, is owed to organizational, not philosophical difficulties.
The wonder, indeed, is that a campaign like the one Conway and the PCCC put together on Monday took so long to materialize (it has been building for weeks). Despite the continual insistence from Democratic leadership that Social Security would be a top topic -- and that a harsh spotlight would be placed Republican calls to privatize the program -- the screws have been only marginally tightened. More than that, Republicans who have called for privatization if not full bore elimination of Social Security have been allowed to either walk back their comments or escape them with marginal consequence.
The full list of signatories can be read at the PCCC's campaign-oriented website.