Altered States

Did Obama Just Touch the Third Rail?

Curious edits to his Social Security page.


Barack Obama is such a hard-core wonk, his camp grinds through policy day in, day out. That may be a great quality to have in a president—but it’s not necessarily a smart strategy for a presidential candidate just weeks before an election.

And this week the Obama campaign modified his position on a sensitive issue: Social Security. Compare the current “Seniors & Social Security” page with the previous version. Now, tell me why, oh why, would the Obama campaign decide to delete the following sentence: “[Obama] does not believe it is necessary or fair to hardworking seniors to raise the retirement age.” Is he trying to stoke anxiety about his position on Social Security?

The new page includes some reassuring language about “work[ing] with members of Congress from both parties to strengthen Social Security and prevent privatization while protecting middle class families from tax increases or benefit cuts.” Still, for those who pay attention to such things, what the new page leaves out is as important as what it puts in.

A move to the center post-convention is a well-worn path. Here are some other changes to the Obama Web site:

  • On education, now Obama apparently expects those who qualify for college tax credits to join jailbirds picking up trash for 100 hours on the freeway (or whatever else “community service” entails these days). Meanwhile, his position on charter schools has gotten both more pro and more con: Under the section headlined (in bold) “Close Low-Performing Charter Schools,” it notes that he wants to double federal funding for them.
  • On the rural-issues page, he has removed the mention of pollution from industrial agriculture.
  • His technology page sees a drastic edit of his position on Internet privacy. He still wants to “protect the openness of the Internet,” just not in such detail.
  • On family issues, the detail that Obama “strongly opposed” the 2005 bankruptcy bill has been removed. But there’s still a lot of language in there about the “dangerous and sometimes unscrupulous business practices” of the subprime mortgage industry!

Obama could take a lesson from McCain’s calciferous Web site. Mild, vague platitudes. Strong, meaningless adjectives. No details. Given the huge interest in Sarah Palin, you’d think the campaign might have wanted to take advantage and add some cool new info about America’s most popular governor. Yet the recent update to her bio more or less rewords her convention speech. Yawn.

Finally, on the subject of biographies, notice how Jill Biden’s biography scales back her involvement with Delaware Boots on the Ground, a group that helps military families. In the earlier version, she “created” the organization. In the latest, she just “joined” it.