WASHINGTON -- The Obama campaign played a bit of debate cleanup on Friday night with a blog post clarifying that there are, indeed, differences between the president's and GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney's approaches to Social Security.
The post on Obama's reelection campaign site comes on the heels of Wednesday night's debate, during which the president said he didn't think that he and Romney differed on reforming the entitlement program. It also follows comments from President Barack Obama's campaign senior adviser David Axelrod -- made the day after the debate -- expressing unawareness of Romney's position on Social Security (Axelrod went after vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan's plan instead).
Progressive activists and even some top Democrats called the whole approach inexplicable. Romney offered some explicit plans to reform Social Security in his book and they were quite different from Obama's. Moreover, the decision to not use the issue as a political cudgel in such a highly watched moment -- indeed, to suggest it wasn't a campaign issue at all -- seemed like a major misstep.
And so, on Friday night, the clarification process began.
"While President Obama is committed to keeping the promise of guaranteed Social Security benefits for current and future generations, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have supported plans to privatize the program, and have put forward a plan that would slash benefits for current workers," the blog post read.
The post goes on to highlight "key differences between the president’s and Romney-Ryan’s approach to Social Security." Among them is a firm opposition, on the president's part, to any reforms that would privatize the program or "slash benefits for future generations." Romney, by contrast, has expressed support for optional individual retirement accounts and raising the retirement age.
"The choice is clear: President Obama will never privatize Social Security or undermine retirement security for middle-class Americans," the post concludes. "The same cannot be said for Romney."
Maybe so, but there are complicating factors here. For one, Obama did agree to change the payment rate of benefits as part of a debt-ceiling deal that he and House Speaker John Boehner nearly pulled off in August 2011. And while his campaign insists that he won't "slash" benefits, progressive reform advocates recoil at such language, arguing that it paves the way for him to back "modest" cuts. During an MSNBC interview several weeks ago, those concerns were exacerbated after Axelrod declined to detail what type of reforms Obama would pursue if reelected -- something that the Romney campaign highlighted on Saturday morning.
“Last night, the Obama campaign took its fact-checking campaign to a new height of absurdity, blaming confusion over the choice on Social Security reform on Mitt Romney," said Amanda Henneberg, a Romney campaign spokesperson. "But the truth is that if President Obama has a plan to save Social Security, he hasn’t shared it with anyone."
Policies aside, the politics are complicated too. Clearly the Obama campaign thinks it missed an opportunity during Wednesday night's debate to elucidate the differences between the two candidates on Social Security. But it's still unclear why the campaign didn't do it the next day. Indeed, waiting until Friday night to offer pushback means even fewer people will know or hear about it.
Democrats may end up relieved by the post, but they will likely want to see the president or Vice President Joe Biden make an issue of it during the subsequent debates.