John McCain pisses on the third rail.--

John McCain recently called Social Security an "absolute disgrace." It is, of course, but politicians aren't supposed to say so.

Josh Marshall is on the case (tip to Kaus):

Okay, when last we checked in on the McCain Social Security is an "absolute disgrace" front, we asked you let us know if any journalist got a chance to put the question to McCain. And TPM Reader DB just flagged for me the fact that ABC's Jake Tapper managed to get an answer.

Jake runs through the play-by-play to this point and then puts the question to McCain spokesman Brian Rogers.

Remember, here's the quote.

"Americans have got to understand that. Americans have got to understand that we are paying present-day retirees with the taxes paid by young workers in America today. And that's a disgrace. It's an absolute disgrace and it's got to be fixed." . . .

And here's the explanation from McCain's guy Rogers, as elicited by Tapper ...

McCain spox Brian Rogers says that "the disgrace is our failure to fix the long-run imbalance in Social Security — a failure of leadership evidenced by our willingness to kick to problem to the next generation of leaders. He's also describing the looming and increasing demographic pressures confronting the Social Security system and Washington's utter failure to address it."

Now, this goes against the plain meaning of the words. But everybody has words come out the wrong way sometimes, or they say things they don't really quite mean. IN other words, if it's just tripping over your words, who cares. But digital video recording is a wonderful thing. And that's why we can know pretty clearly that Rogers' explanation is bogus and that this is precisely what McCain meant.

The townhall meeting where McCain said Social Security was "an absolute disgrace" was on Monday in Denver. Just yesterday McCain went on CNN and said more or less exactly the same thing on CNN.

In response to a question from CNN's John Roberts, McCain said,

"Let's describe it [i.e. Social Security] for what it is. They pay their taxes and right now their taxes are going to pay the retirement of present-day retirees. That's why it's broken, that's why we can fix it."

Social Security is in some respects a disgrace (it should become more of a pension system and less of a welfare system), but whether it will go bankrupt in a few decades depends highly on the assumed growth rate of the US economy. With much of Asia, South America, and Eastern Europe on a long-term upward trend, I'm getting increasingly less pessimistic about the financial future of Social Security.

Merits aside, I consider McCain's statement to be a political gaffe, because by pissing on the third rail of politics, McCain gives his opponents ammunition for future attacks.