Monday, May 16, 2011


Could this work?

Beset by a constant barrage of attacks from the left and increasing unease on the right, House Republican leaders plan to relaunch their proposal to turn Medicare into a privatized voucher program. Leading the charge will be the GOP budget's architect, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), who is scheduled to deliver an address on the topic at the Economic Club of Chicago on Monday.

The opening salvo in this new assault on our hearts and minds is an op-ed by Paul Ryan in the Chicago Tribune. Betty Cracker thinks failure is inevitable:

you have to give the GOP credit for recognizing and stealing a good idea when they see it -- in Obama's deficit speech after the original Ryan plan launch, the president accused the GOP of being pessimistic about the country's future. Ryan's op-ed linked above recycles that line in the service of preserving tax cuts for the Koch Bros. and their ilk, in effect exhorting us to wait just a little longer for the wealth to trickle down.

This particular shit taco is still going to be a tough sell.

Well, I worry -- though I lean toward the opinion that Betty's right. Here's a key passage from the Ryan op-ed:

...The talk is too often restricted to "shared sacrifice." This sets up a debate where we are really just arguing over whom to hurt and how best to manage the decline of our nation. It is a framework that accepts permanently higher taxes and bureaucratically determined access to health care as givens.

A better name for this approach is "shared scarcity." It represents a deeply pessimistic vision for the future of this country -- one that would lead us to a diminished future.

The House-passed budget -- "The Path to Prosperity" -- offers an alternative vision. It is rooted in the recognition that spending discipline and economic growth are the keys to balancing the federal budget....

What doesn't work here, I think, is the implication that Barack Obama is the second coming of Jimmy Carter -- a dour Democrat urging us to grin and bear a period of economic malaise. Ryan doesn't say any of that outright, but I think the subtext here is clearly Obama as Carter/Ryan promising Reagan's "morning in America," which is so ingrained in the Republicans' myth of themselves that they don't realize that it doesn't match the circumstances. (Alas for the Republicans, Obama generally comes off as an optimist, a guy who still wants America to do big things, while it's the Republicans themselves, and the quisling Democrat deficit hawks, who come off as take-your-medicine malaise-niks.)

Nevertheless, the right has been working this soundbite for a while: when oil executives went to Congress last week, wingers picked up on the fact that Chevron's CEO said to Senator Jay Rockefeller, "I don't think the American people want shared sacrifice. They want shared prosperity." (While you and I were rooting for the Democrats in that hearing not only to pummel the oil execs but to have them beaten senseless and clapped in irons, Fox Nation had that quote as its front-page headline that day.)

What does have the potential to work in Ryan's presentation, unfortunately, is the magical thinking -- the notion that there's such a thing as "spending discipline" that doesn't involve "scarcity." Americans, admirably, want to tax the rich a lot more, but apart from that I really don't think they believe anyone has to suffer to get the fiscal house in order. I think they think you just have to cut "bad" stuff from the budget to avoid more debt.

But what tips the balance is the fact that Democrats are still eager to fight:

...the Democrats' campaign ... only intensified as Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) warned that Republicans who voted for the budget would be held accountable regardless of the proposal's ultimate fate. Democrats are using an upcoming special election in New York's right-leaning 26th district as a testing ground for their Medicare message, forcing Republicans to pour resources into what should have been an easy race after a poll showed Democrat Kathy Hochul in the lead.

Medicare and Social Security are just about the only liberal ideas Democrats are willing to fight for, but they're fighting, so Ryan has a tough row to hoe. And language like this, in the Ryan op-ed, doesn't really help, because it seems to be pitched exclusively to people who watch Fox News:

Our budget would [let] seniors act as value-conscious consumers in a transparent and competitive market. Our plan is to give seniors the power to deny business to inefficient health care providers.

This is idiotic (you're 66 and you've just had a heart attack -- while you wait for the ambulance to arrive, should you be comparison-shopping for a hospital?), but Republicans successfully sell a lot of idiotic ideas. What's wrong with this one is that it's uninspiring. Or let me put it this way: If you're the type of person who rereads Atlas Shrugged every year, it's inspiring. If not, not.

No comments: