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Ad Watch: Obama on Social Security

Howard Kurtz rates Obama's latest ad, where the senator says he wants to "bring the country together" to solve the problem of social security.

The Script: OBAMA: We've got 78 million baby boomers who are going to be retiring. There's going to be more money going out than money coming in. If we have failed to have a real, honest conversation about Social Security, it will not get fixed. This is a program that millions of people depend on. I don't want to just put my finger out to the wind and see what the polls say. I want to bring the country together to solve a problem.

Graphics: The Obama Principles: Protect benefits. No privatization of Social Security. End Social Security tax exemption for the wealthy.

Analysis: The larger context for the ad is Obama's attempt to separate himself from Hillary Clinton, whom he accused in a Des Moines Register interview of "ducking the issue." But the Illinois senator himself is quite vague on the details.

Promising to "protect benefits" is hardly a bold stand for a Democrat. Nor is a pledge against privatizing the retirement program, as President Bush unsuccessfully proposed in 2005.

Where Obama treads on politically sensitive ground is in advocating higher taxes on benefits for retirees. Those affected--he describes them as "wealthy"--earn more than $97,500, which is now the cutoff point for taxing Social Security benefits. In an op-ed piece in September, Obama said one option for closing the projected Social Security shortfall would be taxing income above that level at 12.4 percent, half of which would be paid by employees and half by employers. Obama aides offered no further details today.

Clinton has not made a proposal on fixing Social Security, enabling Obama to portray himself in this spot as a truth-teller willing to tackle hard problems. But he does not utter a word about raising taxes, leaving that to an on-screen graphic that frames the issue as ending an "exemption" for rich people.

Clinton is countering with a commercial today, touting her experience against "every candidate on earth" who is showing up in Iowa but offering no specifics about the program's future. "When George Bush threatened to privatize Social Security," the ad says, "Hillary was there, fighting every step of the way ... Which candidate has been there for you all along?"

--Howard Kurtz

More ad analysis on The Post's Channel 08.

By Washington Post editors  |  October 29, 2007; 12:34 PM ET
Categories:  A_Blog , Barack Obama  
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