It’s one month until Election Day and Florida governor Charlie Crist is desperate. When Crist launched his campaign more than a year ago he was leading conservative Marco Rubio by more than 30 points. Now, after having opted to run as an independent to avoid a humiliating defeat in the Republican primary, he remains down in the polls by double-digits. And he’s fading fast. Then, in an editorial board meeting with the Palm Beach Post last week, Crist claimed that he would have left the Republican primary to run as an independent even if he’d been leading by 20 points – one of the most ridiculous statements in recent political memory.
Given this context, and given Florida’s senior-heavy voting population, perhaps it’s not surprising that Crist would resort to highly misleading attack ads about Social Security.
Crist’s new ad begins airing today. The irony factor is high. A horror-movie voice begins: “Work longer, get by on less. That’s the Marco Rubio retirement plan. Rubio wants to raise the Social Security retirement age. That means you’ll work harder and longer for your money.” The ad flashes a source on the screen – “Fox News Sunday, 3/28/10.” And later the announcer says: “Charlie Crist is against raising the retirement age. He’ll protect Social Security because our seniors have earned it.”
Rank dishonesty. Rubio has said that he is open to raising the retirement age to preserve the viability of Social Security for younger Americans. But he has said repeatedly that he would not touch Social Security for current retirees – the target of Crist’s misleading ad. Indeed, in the very appearance that Crist cites as his source, Rubio said: “If you're 55 years of age or older, or close enough to retirement — 55 is the number that [Paul Ryan’s Roadmap] plan uses — I think this is off the table. We're not talking about you.”
There’s more irony. Crist once decried exactly these kind of scare tactics and even led a legislative investigation into efforts to mislead seniors on Social Security. In 1994, Governor Lawton Chiles was running for reelection running against Jeb Bush. Senior citizens in the Tampa Bay area received anonymous phone calls claiming that Bush wanted to end Social Security, a practice Crist called “unethical, wrong and disgusting.” Crist said: “It’s inexcusable to try to scare and frighten seniors.” Crist, then the chairman of the State Senate’s Committee on Executive Business, Ethics and Elections, held hearings to publicize and condemn the practices. Crist denounced the “misrepresentations and outright misstatements” about Bush’s views.
That was then, apparently.
Crist’s views have changed in others ways, too. Crist himself once favored partial privatization of Social Security. He tried to downplay his previous position in his interview with the Palm Beach Post last week, saying the changes would have been minor and he held the views long ago. “I think one percent like 12 years ago or something.”
So Charlie Crist, who once advocated the partial privatization of Social Security, now claims that raising the retirement age for young Americans would be devastating to seniors. And Charlie Crist, who once condemned efforts to mislead seniors on their retirement security, is trying to save a dying campaign by doing just that.
That, as someone once said, is unethical, wrong and disgusting.
Here’s the full script for Crist’s latest ad:
“Work longer, get by on less, that's the Marco Rubio retirement plan. Rubio wants to raise the Social Security retirement age. That means you'll work harder and longer for your money. And Rubio wants to cut benefits, though it's already tough enough to make ends meet. That's Washington for you. Balance the budget on the backs of seniors. There's a better choice. Charlie Crist is against raising the retirement age. He’ll protect Social Security because our seniors have earned it.” CRIST: “I’m Charlie Crist and I approve this message.”
Update: Former governor Jeb Bush's response to Crist's ad is here.