The Two Faces Of Republicans On Medicare

Ronald Reagan produced an iconic recording in 1961 that still serves as a clarion call to conservatives and libertarians on the supposed dangers of entitlement programs. The then Hollywood actor spoke eloquently about the encroachment of Socialism under the guise of a coming government program that we all know now as Medicare. His well-defined points were the historical backbone for the fight against health care reform last year. In a classic example of the kind of wholesale contradictions that define Republican politics now, the conservatives rallying around Reagan’s position and memory, did so under the aegis of the defenders of Medicare.

Medicare is single-payer medicine, and it is enormously popular. The graph at left shows survey results that have been repeated over and over again; the government-managed Medicare is consistently more popular with customers than private insurance. Any attempt to overtly kill the program would be met with utter electoral failure by the party or individual responsible. For this reason, conservatives have had to wage a stealth campaign against the program. They rail against the federal debt (when they aren’t in the White House, that is), and they pontificate on the efficiencies and superlatives of the market. During the health care debate, the Republicans were faced with the tricky problem of having to attack government intervention into the health care market without being perceived as attacking the successful intervention that is Medicare.

At this seemingly insurmountable obstacle, conservatives were wildly successful. In an incredible stroke of political genius, Republicans were able to cast themselves as defenders of Medicare, while castigating government intervention. The piece de resistance of this amazing adventure in political branding, was the moment a senior citizen rose and thundered that “The Government better not lay its hands on my Medicare!”

Conservatives were able to pull off this feet through a combination of misinformation, voter ignorance, and Democratic responsibility. That is correct friends; after an early $1.6 trillion mistake, Democrats crafted a series of reform bills, each less expensive than the rest. They over-paid for these bills (all, including the final, raise more then they spend, thus lowering the deficit) by raising specialty taxes and encoding cuts to Medicare phased in over the ten year period of the bill. The cuts were to fat, not muscle. They were designed to corral the systemic over-payments in the system through fixing procedural faults and cracking down on fraud and abuse.

The changes to Medicare gave Republicans a chance to do two things; attack the Democrats in a demographic where the liberals already had difficulties (and one that regularly votes as well), and present Americans with the false choice that a vote for reform was a vote against Medicare. The flawless strategy and execution almost defeated the reform legislation, and is still paying dividends for the GOP today. The overheated debate about the deficit, combined with the freshly woven mantle of Medicare champion, is allowing the conservatives to creep up on Medicare and Social Security privatization once more.

This friends is their true posture; listen to libertarians who have stayed true to their philosophy. The conservative/libertarian philosophy necessitates a complete withdrawal of our democracy from retirement security. In the clip at the top of this essay, Ronald Reagan talks of the slow advance of Socialism under the guise of liberalism. What is happening now is the slow advance of Fascism (a government of the corporations, by the corporations, and for the corporations) under the guise of fiscal responsibility.

One must follow the money to the truth; privatization of Medicare and Social Security would direct more than $2 trillion annually to Wall Street. There, in the hands of the financial geniuses who wrought the Great Recession and won trillions in bailout funds from the Bush Administration, that $2 trillion would yield billions in brokerage fees every year, whether the funds were paying out or not. Social Security and Medicare have continued to operate during the recession, as they do during good times and bad. Despite the falsehoods to the contrary in the Washington Post and other outlets, Social Security remains in fine shape, and Medicare’s outlook is markedly improved by the passage of reform. Can you say the same of your retirement funds?

These are the reasons for the two-faced Republican approach to Medicare and Social Security. They know they can’t attack either program without losing votes from the most reliable mid-term participants, senior citizens and those who are close. Despite this, they desperately want to close the deal on closing these programs, as both are contrary to every tenet of conservative philosophy…just listen to Reagan in the clip. Conservatives, deficit hawks, and the progressives to intellectually weak to oppose them are pushing us towards a wholesale retreat from retirement security. They do this while they attack union and other jobs that offer retirement security through pensions. The rapacious greed is there, bubbling just below the surface, it is high time that Americans called them to account.

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One Response to “The Two Faces Of Republicans On Medicare”

  • B. Thaddeus Balls says:

    “There, in the hands of the financial geniuses who wrought the Great Recession and won trillions in bailout funds from the Bush Administration, that $2 trillion would billions in brokerage fees every year, whether the funds were paying out or not.”

    Mike – I’m sure that you, as an MBA, can appreciate the sheer beauty in that truth! -Balls

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