WASHINGTON -- The massive drop in the stock market Thursday afternoon provides an ominous, albeit politically inviting, backdrop for the Republican debate later in the night. A GOP field that has bashed the president for his economic stewardship has, as its freshest data point, a 390-point loss in the Dow Jones Industrial Average.
But the market volatility can cut both ways. In an interview with The Huffington Post just hours before the GOP candidates took center stage, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, made the argument that the stock market fall exposed the political hazards of the Republican presidential field's broad call to privatize Social Security.
"What would my constituent's Social Security account look like if that were the law of the land after a day like today," asked the Florida representative. "That would have caused a lot of people that I represent to fall through the floor because there would be no safety net."
The wide appeal of Social Security rests largely on the perception that it is a stable social safety net. And Democrats in the past (most notably when President George W. Bush tried to privatize the program in 2005) have been successful in using the unpredictability of markets to undermine efforts to change Social Security.
This year's Republican presidential field is unique, however, in that one of its primary fault lines is whether a successful candidate needs to be restrained in his tone on entitlement reform. Mitt Romney, in particular, has gone so far as to call Rick Perry unelectable for insisting that Social Security is a "Ponzi scheme" based on a "monstrous lie."
"Mitt Romney is a wolf in sheep's clothing," Wasserman Schultz said when asked about the former Massachusetts governor's more moderate pitch. "He is trying to mask his true beliefs, which he has repeatedly said over the years, which is he believes in private accounts for Social Security. He believes in letting people invest their Social Security in the stock market."
Romney has, indeed, argued as much in the books he has written.
As for that unstable stock market, the DNC chairwoman did her best to downplay the stain it might leave on perceptions of the president's economic record.
"The backdrop is obviously unfortunate, but it is a day-to-day proposition," Wasserman Schultz said. "When it comes to the work we are doing under President Obama to continue to create jobs and get the economy turned around and pick up the pace of recovery, there are ups and downs. But my job is to, I think, show people where we have been and where we are now thanks to President Obama's policies. And if you look at that, it stacks up pretty well."