After last week’s market turmoil, Barack Obama tried to scare seniors in Florida by telling them that John McCain’s privatization ideas for Social Security would have left them broke.  Fact Check dismantled this attack as either completely ignorant or a total fabrication, but Slate noticed something amiss on Team Obama’s website on Social Security.  Did Obama launch a false attack to distract from a retreat on his own position?

First, the lie:

In Daytona Beach, Obama said that “if my opponent had his way, the millions of Floridians who rely on it would’ve had their Social Security tied up in the stock market this week.” He referred to “elderly women” at risk of poverty, and said families would be scrambling to support “grandmothers and grandfathers.”

That’s not true. The plan proposed by President Bush and supported by McCain in 2005 would not have allowed anyone born before 1950 to invest any part of their Social Security taxes in private accounts. All current retirees would be covered by the same benefits they are now. …

In our “Scaring Seniors” article posted Sept. 19 we took apart a claim in an Obama-Biden ad that McCain somehow supported a 50 percent cut in Social Security benefits, which is simply false. Then, on Saturday Sept. 20, Sen. Barack Obama personally fed senior citizens another whopper, this one a highly distorted claim about the private Social Security accounts that McCain supports.

Obama has spent over $8 million in Florida, while McCain just started attending to the Sunshine State.  Neverthless, McCain leads Obama in Florida in all polling, and the gap has become wider, not smaller.  The lie about McCain and Social Security intends to address that gap by scaring seniors into believing that their benefits are at risk.  However, since the very beginning of the 2005 effort to partially privatize Social Security, it has always exempted people 55 and above, and some versions push that back even earlier.

For those who would participate in privatization — it’s voluntary in most proposals — a single bad week doesn’t mean the collapse of their investment, anyway.  That argument would lead one to rationally believe that the best investment is in the First National Bank of Mattress.  Over a period of years, the stock market provides a steady, stable investment and has for the last 70+ years, with a much higher rate of return than the 1% lifetime return retirees now see from Social Security payments.

But while Obama spent his time in Florida frightening old people, his webmasters made some interesting changes to his policy page.  Slate noticed it yesterday:

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?

Why indeed?  That does not seem like a random act of space-saving on a cluttered website.  Is Obama about to reverse himself on Social Security and back an increase in the retirement age?  It’s one of the more substantial points of agreement among economists as a way to extend the program’s solvency, and it makes sense as Americans get healthier and have longer, more productive lives.

How would Obama go about rolling out that significant change in position?  The best way to do it while minimizing the political impact would be to paint his opponent as far worse — say, by lying about his proposals to frighten retirees and near-retirees.  This seems like a deliberate way to plow the ground so that Obama’s own shift will seem more reasonable and create less backlash among the same demographic.