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August 19, 2011 2:25 PM Perry’s Social Security problem

By Steve Benen

Once a high-profile presidential candidate is on record calling Social Security, one of the nation’s most popular and successful programs, a “Ponzi scheme,” it’s tough to walk it back.

Indeed, while Republican hostility for Social Security isn’t exactly new, Republican presidential hopeful Rick Perry has taken this to an unfamiliar level. He’s not only dismissed the bedrock program as a “Ponzi scheme,” the Texas governor has also said Social Security is unconstitutional, and could be turned over to the states (it can’t).

Perry is at least sharp enough to know these criticisms can cause him some trouble, but if a campaign stop in New Hampshire yesterday was any indication, the governor isn’t quite sure how to deal with Social Security scrutiny.

Inside the cafe, Gail Mitchell and a companion grilled him: “You said Social Security was unconstitutional.”

“Social Security’s going to be there for those folks,” Perry answered his inquisitors, making reference to the elderly.

“But you said Social Security is unconstitutional,” Mitchell repeated.

“I don’t think I — I’m sorry, you must have,” Perry said before stopping himself.

Instead of elaborating, Perry stuffed a generous piece of popover in his mouth. (Perry called them “pop ups.”)

“I’ve got a big mouthful,” Perry said and then ordering a glass of water. He later tripped over one of the women standing at his side pressing him on Social Security.

“I’m sorry, sweetheart,” Perry said to her.

When a candidate would rather stuff food in his mouth than answer an important question, it’s safe to say he considers the issue politically problematic.

Later, Ray Sullivan a Perry campaign spokesperson, told reporters he’s “never heard” the governor question the constitutionality of Social Security.

Sullivan may be the only one.

As for Perry’s reluctance to stand by his own positions, what happened to the swagger, Rick? Folks want to know if you stand by what you said about Social Security. You’re not going to let polls and a bunch of aides tell you what to think, are you?

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.

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  • DAY on August 19, 2011 2:29 PM:

    Shades of the "straight talk express" redux.

    Please sir, can we have another quote? Because some us "reporters" are writing these down, for our post election books. . .

  • anandine on August 19, 2011 2:37 PM:

    a Perry campaign spokesperson, told reporters he’s “never heard” the governor question the constitutionality of Social Security.

    Don't these people know about TiVo? The next Daily Show might have the video.

  • brent on August 19, 2011 2:39 PM:

    Just to be fair, Obama did a similar thing once on the campaign when he was asked about Jimmy Carter's meeting with Hamas. I mean, he didn't just stuff food in his face but he did make the point that he would like to be left alone for a moment so he could eat his food.

    Not quite the same and I certainly don't doubt Obama's willingness or ability to address serious questions but just for the record...

  • Joe Friday on August 19, 2011 2:44 PM:

    This clown will make Willard look like an amateur at pandering and flip-flopping.

  • just bill on August 19, 2011 2:46 PM:

    this is almost as funny as watching gingrich implode. i'd give perry about two weeks.

  • merrinc on August 19, 2011 2:49 PM:

    Instead of elaborating, Perry stuffed a generous piece of popover in his mouth.


    So Perry is basing campaign strategy on Twix commercials? Awesome!

  • Josef K on August 19, 2011 2:50 PM:

    if a campaign stop in New Hampshire yesterday was any indication, the governor isn’t quite sure how to deal with Social Security scrutiny.

    At this point, just about the only thing he can do to avoid scenes like this is either (a) severely limit all unscripted contact with the general public and press for the remainder of the campaign (including all televised debates), or (b) have his vocal chords cut out.

    Absent either of those, I really don't rate his chances of avoiding eating both feet on a regular basis.

  • square1 on August 19, 2011 2:51 PM:

    Wake me when ANYONE talks about Social Security in a sensible fashion. Seriously, are there any politicians who honestly want to strengthen the program for the coming years? And by "strengthen" I don't mean cut benefits.

  • Todd for VT House on August 19, 2011 2:51 PM:

    So he's cool with maintaining an unconstitutional program for the largest voting bloc? Good to know.

    And I guess if he wins, he'll need to update the Social Security website:

    "The constitutionality of the Social Security Act was settled in a set of Supreme Court decisions issued in May 1937."

    http://www.ssa.gov/history/court.html

    I also hope he rules in on the constitutionality of Captcha.

  • Anonymous on August 19, 2011 2:54 PM:


    I’ve got a big mouthful, Perry said

    Wow. You can say that again.

    Later, Ray Sullivan a Perry campaign spokesperson, told reporters he’s “never heard” the governor question the constitutionality of Social Security.

    Help, memory hole...not..deep..enough..

  • TR on August 19, 2011 3:05 PM:

    So Perry is basing campaign strategy on Twix commercials? Awesome!

    My thoughts exactly. We need a mashup of that video and that ad, pronto. Seriously, get that thing going viral now.

  • PTate in MN on August 19, 2011 3:13 PM:

    It's been clear for some time that the only way anyone can support Republicans or conservative policies is to have no short term or long term memory whatsoever. Basically, they say whatever, do whatever, and then have no memory of the consequences. They'll deny doing it. They have no connection with reality.

    Perry is just proving that he is a true Republican, a dangerous ideologue who embraces a political worldview that is, basically, treasonous. Only no one dares call it treason because that would be impolite, AND the bullies will go after him.

  • T2 on August 19, 2011 3:15 PM:

    Rick's Gaffe-a-Day Express flounders on. Have we heard one single actionable statement from this guy? Something that might actually merit electing him? Verbally sparring with little kids at campaign rallies is pretty much the level of intellect he seems to be at.

  • Brian R. on August 19, 2011 3:16 PM:

    "Later, Ray Sullivan a Perry campaign spokesperson, told reporters he’s “never heard” the governor question the constitutionality of Social Security."

    Yeah, he only read it in the book Perry wrote. Never heard the governor actually say the words.

  • susan on August 19, 2011 3:16 PM:

    If I were that woman, I would be deeply offended that he called me, "Sweetheart."

    He needs to learn some manners.

  • Marc on August 19, 2011 3:23 PM:

    It is a lot like those Twix commercials, except in those, the person who's crammed the candy bar in his mouth to buy some time actually winds up coming up with an answer in the end. Perry just buys some time and then bails.

    But yeah, we need a mashup of Perry and the ad. Here's one:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qh1nZ5lfcco

  • Art Hackett on August 19, 2011 3:32 PM:

    Just out of curiosity, was Michele Bachmann asked about Social Security right before she ate that corn dog?

  • hells littlest angel on August 19, 2011 3:38 PM:

    When a candidate would rather stuff food in his mouth than answer an important question...

    Worked for Chris Christie, evidently.

  • Edward Furey on August 19, 2011 3:41 PM:

    If Perry actually believes that Social Security is unconstitutional, then he he duty-bound to abolish it if elected President. The oath of office requires that he support and defend the Constitution, so by allowing Social Security to continue in any form he would be violating that oath. At least by the lights of his perverted view of the Constitution, to borrow from Churchill.

  • jb on August 19, 2011 3:44 PM:

    Perry has no more interest in being president than Palin. Too much work. He is creating a lucrative brand for future sale.

  • smintheus on August 19, 2011 3:44 PM:

    Hard to see how Perry makes it to the WH unless he quickly adopts the only viable response left to him - to admit he 'goofed' in calling Social Security into question, and blame it all on an over-abundance of concern about the program's sustainability. But the longer he ducks questions, and tries dodges like not remembering what he said, the more fatal this issue will become to his presidential campaign.

    Of course, there are plenty of issues that ought to doom him, in a reasonable political environment with a functioning news media. But calling Social Security unconstitutional is the one that's most likely to do him in.

  • bradgalt on August 19, 2011 3:56 PM:

    "I've got a big mouthful, Perry said"

    Was Marcus Bachmann in attendance?

    Perry may be a good retail politician for the rubes in small town Texas, but the guy can't think on his feet when there are voters who aren't falling over ever word he utters.

  • troglodyte on August 19, 2011 3:59 PM:

    Hard to see how Perry makes it to the WH unless he quickly adopts the only viable response left to him - to admit he 'goofed' in calling Social Security into question, and blame it all on an over-abundance of concern about the program's sustainability.

    It is hard to claim this as a goof, because it is in a book he nominally authored, not spoken in a random speech.

    Also, the hallmark of wingnuttery is that you never ever admit mistakes. As long as you never admit an error, the wingnuts hang with you.

  • Buggy Ding Dong on August 19, 2011 4:30 PM:

    That's because Revolving Door Ray was probably too busy lobbying for his corporate clients when Rick said those things.

    So he's not lying, he was just more concerned about AT+T, liquor distributors, Compass Bank and more.

  • IOKIYAR on August 19, 2011 4:30 PM:

    Instead of elaborating, Perry stuffed a generous piece of popover in his mouth. (Perry called them "pop ups.")
    My NC-raised grandmother referred to them as "pop ups" on the rare occasion she baked them, and that's how her recipe is labeled (in the recipe box I inherited from her). Not sure if it's simply a common error or runs through an older Southern vocabulary.
  • POed Lib on August 19, 2011 4:37 PM:

    We need to stick this one on the entire pack of Repukeliscum. Pull out the Ryan plan, and stick it to them. Make them either repudiate it or live with it. In either case, it's a golden opportunity.

    Even if Obama has screwed up the moment.

  • The Oracle on August 19, 2011 5:14 PM:

    This sounds like a great idea for a Saturday Night Live skit, or maybe Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert will take this on...a political candidate stuffing his face so that he doesn't have to answer a question. Although, I think this has already been done in one way or another, but someone lampooning the buffoon Rick Perry would be a new twist.

  • smintheus on August 19, 2011 5:15 PM:

    @troglodyte It is hard to claim this as a goof...

    Goof as in "When I make a mistake, it's a duesie" (a la LaGuardia).

    And yes, that's his dilemma. If he backs down he loses cred among the extreme whackos of his base (the only ones who want to see SS killed off), but if he doesn't then he'll be dogged by the issue forever.

  • Kathryn on August 19, 2011 5:28 PM:

    After spokeperson Sullivan said he never heard Perry question the constitutionality of Social Security I'm confident an efficient member of the press corps pointed out the words in Perry's book that called S.S. a ponzi scheme, no?

    I'm with Susan, the sweetheart comment hasn't been acceptable for decades, only 90 year olds get a pass on that one.

  • Lance on August 19, 2011 6:03 PM:

    "If I were that woman, I would be deeply offended that he called me, "Sweetheart."

    He needs to learn some manners."

    He's from Texas.

    The state that invited a Taliban spokesperson to come here and talk up the idea of a natural gas pipeline through their country, and then insulted a woman reporter at their joint press conference while all those 'manly' Texans stood there a let the unwashed Pastun orphan scum do it.

    You noticed that Perry had to have the whole state of Texas behind him to threaten to "treat him pretty ugly" when he threatened Ben Bernanke?

    Mess with Texas? Any time chumps...

  • burro on August 19, 2011 7:03 PM:

    Gov. Blowhard has wandered off the ranch and he's going to find out what a luxury it is, and has been, to have fawning, unquestioning Texans be the only thing between him and elected office.

    He's been permitted to wallow in the awesomeness of being King of Texas for so long he's forgotten that it wasn't always so. And it's such a big place that he could imagine the whole fucking world loved him as much as the silly Texans.

    Even Rick Perry doesn't have enough delusional, self inflicted bullshit to keep going against the basic inquiries he will be getting about how the world works and what part he's going to play in improving it.

    He's more of a fraud than even he realizes, but he's about to get smacked in the face with it.

    We won't have Gov. Blowhard to kick around for very long. It's safe and warm in Texas. And that's where he will stay, after his little visit to the outside world.

  • Texas Aggie on August 19, 2011 7:08 PM:

    This is about par for the course. Goodhair has a long, long record of avoiding debates with his opponents, and this is just minor league debate avoidance. I would have thought that his handlers would have prepared him better for questions like this that are absolutely predictable. Surely they didn't think that no one would ask about it, did they?

  • Squeaky McCrinkle on August 20, 2011 2:29 AM:

    Today Bob Somerby gave us Perry in a nutshell . . .

    "There is no jobs boom occurring in Texas. There is no miracle happening there. These claims are stupid spin. They’re pure crap from a crappy candidate, nonsense designed to deceive you."

    What more is there to say, and why aren't there more people saying it?

  • Marc on August 20, 2011 8:36 AM:

    Forgive him Lord, he knows not what he said!

  • bcinaz on August 20, 2011 9:19 AM:

    Perry is more like Bush than Bush was - dumber too, and more corrupt - a super-crony-capitalist.

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