The ‘Third Rail Of Politics Heats Up

The ‘Third Rail Of Politics Heats Up

Patrick Semansky © Patrick SemanskyPatrick Semansky

Bill Clinton was on his way to the Democratic presidential nomination in 1992, but there was one obstacle standing in his way: former Senator Paul Tsongas, whose no-nonsense style and fiscal pragmatism discouraged those concerned about Clinton's extramarital affairs from to get in touch, avoid projects. and marijuana use in college.

So, in Tsonga's own words, Clinton took action against the Massachusetts Democrat. Before the Florida primary, Clinton revealed a single ambiguous paragraph in Tsongas' 85-page tract, A Call to Economic Arms, which Tsongas suggested he "could see." reduced annual growth. Benefit payments such as Social Security and Medicare.

Clinton held up a pamphlet in front of seniors and warned that a hypothetical "Tsongas president" could jeopardize his retirement. That wasn't entirely true: Tsongas said on the campaign trail that he didn't want Social Security changes and that higher taxes on the wealthy could help Medicare. But it put Tsongas back on the defensive. He lost the Florida primary by 16 percentage points and dropped out of the race a week later.

Fast forward to this week, and President Joe Biden appeared to be reading the 1992 campaign playbook. Before an audience at the University of Tampa, Biden released a Republican Party pamphlet for 2022: "A 12-Point Plan to Save America," while criticizing him. The author, the youngest Senator from Florida, Rick Scott, for the recommendation "toute la législation fédérale dans les 5 ans", ce qui, a verti Biden, mettrait en péril des programs connus sous le nom de sécurité sociale et d'Health Versicherung .

"Maybe he's changed his mind. Maybe he saw God," Biden said of Scott, who says the White House is distorting his words. Any proposal to scrap the pension and health care programs "probably won't go through, but I'll tell you something: If you have to do it every five years, it's likely to be cut significantly." Biden said the program's sponsors would have to compete for funding twice a decade.

And to ensure no one overlooked Biden's perspective, aides have placed a copy of Scott's plan, drawn up when the Florida Republican was chairman of the National Republican Senate Committee, in each seat along with the controversial paragraph marked with a red circle is, published.

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It's been dubbed the "third rail" of Social Security policy for a reason: Seniors vote, and they don't want their programs and pensions threatened. And the White House is even using vague or outdated threats to win back older voters who have voted more Republican over the past 15 to 20 years.

That's a particularly strong message in Florida, where more than one-fifth of the population is 65 years of age or older. In addition, the majority of national voters (52%) are over 50 and may be wondering when and how they will retire.

"These are the issues Democrats want to talk about," said Michael Binder, a political scientist and pollster at the University of North Florida. And no function is possible to eradicate the programs, although it is very difficult, he said. Even eligibility age increases or other program changes create financial insecurity for people who want to live on a steady income.

"When people sit down and start counting money, it's things that make a big, big difference," he says.

A YouGuv poll released this week found that Social Security and Medicare remain popular, with 76% of adults and 89% of Social Security recipients saying they have positive opinions of the programs. Most Americans (57%) think Social Security should be funded more, while just 11% want a cut, the poll found.

Older voters, once a reliable Democratic voice, have morphed more into Republicans in recent years. They endorsed the Democratic nominee in every presidential election from 1992 to 2004. Clinton led the age group by 17 percentage points, more than any other eligible age group.

But in 2006, more than 65% of voters began to identify with Republicans, Gallup reported. This is the only age group that Barack Obama lost in 2008 and 2012. Former President Donald Trump also voted to be 65 and older in 2016 and 2020.

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In 2020, however, Biden diminished Trump's lead, winning 47% of the vote nationally, compared to 45% for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in 2016. In the critical state of Michigan, Biden won a majority, 51% of the vote from those over 65 years of age old.

Those aren't the numbers Democrats get from their base like blacks, city dwellers and youth, but small changes can be critical in individual states, experts say, and make all the difference in a presidential race.

Biden this week took a stance similar to another group that has become more Republican in recent decades: union members and uncollege-educated voters. In the two elections in which Trump won white college voters, Biden lost some support, winning 32% of those votes versus Clinton's 28% in 2016.

In the battleground states of Wisconsin this week, Biden touted the jobs his bipartisan infrastructure bill will create that don't require a college degree. And he hailed unions as a route to economic mobility.

“Wall Street didn't build this country. The middle class built this country and the unions built the middle class," Biden said this week at a vocational training center near Madison.

But while Republicans may be reluctant to talk to seniors about Social Security and Medicare, their culture war issues could resonate with older voters and white voters without a college education, analysts say.

Changes in social mores, whether it's the use of preferred pronouns or critical racial theory, can be unsettling for older Americans who feel their lives have been cut short in recent years, experts say. And voters without a college degree, especially those in manufacturing jobs, have seen global economic shifts transform their life plans.

"I think that the far right, more broadly, has become a bit more liberal about a lot of these cultural changes," particularly about gay marriage, as more people of all political persuasions know someone who is gay or lesbian. says Kevin Smith, a political science professor at the University of Nebraska who has studied whether people become more conservative as they age.

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But in the meantime, “The left has gotten a lot more liberal about this culture-changing stuff. Republicans see it as something they can use to get votes," Smith said. "These are pretty big cultural shifts that are driving major movements and ideas, especially if you're an older voter and not sure they're moving in a particularly good direction."

Because of this, Republicans can be beaten on culture war issues while Biden talks about the economy or spending. In an official challenge to Biden's Republican stance, Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Tuesday night attacked the "fantastic minds" in the Biden administration, saying Democrats don't decide what a woman is and that children in school-age Age taught to hate. her. . each other "because of their race".

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a potential Republican presidential nominee for 2024, has also placed these issues at the heart of his administration, attacking the "wake-up call" and addressing mask mandates, housing transgender students and educating African Americans for dealing with higher education.

Meanwhile, Republicans are calling Biden a "liar" for his warnings about Republican threats to Social Security and Medicare and accusing him of being a hypocrite on the issue. Biden, they noted, approved a plan in 1975 to exhaust all federal laws every five years.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre dismissed the comparisons Thursday.

"A bill from the 1970s is not on the president's agenda," Jean-Pierre told reporters on Air Force One as the president flew to Tampa. "You should listen to what the President has said about protecting and fighting for Medicare and Social Security for the last two years."

Tsongas attempted similar behavior in 1992, reminding Bill Clinton that he once went through a year-long federal benefits freeze. Tsongas dropped out of the race a few weeks later.

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