Sharron Angle has taken a long, winding journey on Social Security — only to end up back in the same place, at least in some respects. She started off calling for the program to be phased out, then scrambled to walk that position back, and is now kind of creeping back toward the original — perhaps unintentionally. In many ways, Angle’s motions on this big issue reflect the classic pattern of a political campaign: Go to extremes for the primary, and inch to the middle for the general election.
Back during the Republican primary, Angle famously said during a debate, “We need to phase Medicare and Social Security out in favor of something privatized,” also adding: “I’m saying it [Social Security] can’t be fixed, it’s broken.” She also said during a radio interview in May that the only room for argument was one of implementation and the timeline: “The idea of privatizing and getting out of Medicare and Social Security is not up for grabs.”
Soon after Angle won the primary, the Reid campaign quickly came out with a TV ad hammering Angle on the phaseout remark, while also mentioning another damaging story: “That’s Sharron Angle. First a Scientology plan to give massages to prisoners — now she wants to get rid of Medicare and Social Security. What’s next?” The Reid campaign also had another ad, playing audio of Angle boasting in the weeks before the primary: “My grandfather wouldn’t even take his Social Security check because he said he was not up for welfare.”
In response, Angle and her allies have changed their tune — to say that she wants to save Social Security. In an interview with Jon Ralston at the end of June, Angle declared that she wanted to put money back into Social Security, and offer younger workers a choice of sticking with the present system or voluntarily going to a private system.
“If we are going to go to a personalized account, then there can be this choice, and many people will have this choice,” said Angle. “If you’ve read Paul Ryan’s roadmap, you know that there is a choice that gives them the bottom line, which is Social Security — they can choose that — or they can choose to personalize. But no matter whether they choose the personalized account of Social Security, or what we have now, the bottom line is that we can’t keep raiding and pillaging like Harry Reid has been doing for years and year and years.”
Also, a conservative group called Americans for New Leadership had a TV ad defending her. “Sharron Angle doesn’t want to phase out Social Security,” the announcer says. “She wants to phase out the way Harry Reid and Congress raid Social Security for their reckless spending.” The on-screen text declared: Sharon (sic) Angle will protect Social Security.”
And later on, Angle declared to a conservative convention audience: “I’ve never said I want to eliminate, I always said I want to save Social Security by paying back. But to do that we have to cut back.” Thus her previous stance of phasing out Social Security has become one of offering an option for a private system, combined with some kind of fiscal austerity measures.
And in a recent ad, Angle has further stated her dedication to the program. “The real Social Security solutions are to stop Harry Reid from raiding the Social Security trust fund. He needs that money for his own pet projects,” Angle says in the ad. “We have a contract with our seniors, who have put into Social Security in good faith. I’d like to save Social Security by locking the lockbox, putting the money back into the trust fund, so the government can no longer raid our retirements.”
But suddenly, the old position is starting to surface again. As Angle told the local CBS affiliate in Las Vegas: “However, I’ve seen been studying, and Chile has done this.” Chile’s private pensions system was implemented by the right-wing military dictator Augusto Pinochet, and was not voluntary. New workers coming into the system were required to use the private system — based around an individual mandate of compulsory contributions to private investment — while the choice of sticking with the old public one was only offered for then-current workers up until a certain cutoff.
So there you have it. The long, winding road of Sharron Angle on Social Security — which leads right back to the start.