Watching the Mitt Romney/Paul Ryan campaign this past week has been almost a surreal experience. Imagine – two passionate, articulate Republicans taking the fight directly to their opponents and demolishing the Democrats’ emotion-laced memes with simple, direct arguments. The last time we saw anything like this was 1980, and George H. W. Bush was no Paul Ryan.
Romney’s selection of Ryan should quell any doubts about the primary goal of his administration — getting the US economy back on track. And this week, we saw a plentiful amount of evidence suggesting that the top agenda item in his economic recovery plan is the repeal of Obamacare.
Conservatives have been debating how to go about repealing Obamacare for over two years now. Throughout numerous discussions, two goals remained clear: 1) voters must understand that, while Obamacare promises a lot of benefits, it is built on a financial house of cards that rests largely on the defunding of Medicare combined with huge tax increases; and 2) Republicans must put forth a plan that provides needed reforms without raiding the Medicare trust or inflicting a “Taxmageddon” on the American people.
And incredibly, the Romney campaign seems to have figured out how to make this work, using an interesting mixture of strategies from Sun Tsu (“The victorious strategist only seeks battle after the victory has been won”) and Saul Alinsky (“Make the enemy play by his own book of rules”).
Predictably, the Democrat response to the Ryan pick was “OMG!!! He wants to CUT MEDICARE!!! He wants to END MEDICARE AS WE KNOW IT!!!” To which the Republicans have simply replied, “What about the $700 billion that Obamacare raids from Medicare? What about Obamacare’s termination of Medicare Advantage? What about Obamacare’s new Independent Medicare Advisory Board? Why was Obama’s dismantling of Medicare okay, while Ryan’s proposed reforms are the most evil plan ever?”
I don’t think the Democrats ever expected such a straightforward attack from the Republicans. For two and a half years, they and their willing accomplices in the Media/Entertainment complex have successfully avoided any discussion of the financial and regulatory aspects of Obamacare. Last weekend, Howard Dean told ABC News This Week, “You can’t convince people that a Democrat is going to cut Medicare.” And he seriously believes it.
But by bringing up Ryan’s “Medicare cuts” the Democrats have committed a serious unforced error, and now that Republicans have demonstrated that Obamacare also “ends Medicare as we know it”, they are struggling to justify the silliness of their textbook attack rhetoric. The embarrassing on-air performances of Democratic party mouthpieces Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Rachel Maddow demonstrate just how completely unprepared the Democrats are, when their orthodoxy is directly challenged.
I also believe the Democrats’ over-reliance on “Medi-scare” tactics is fatally flawed for yet another reason, which is a false belief that senior citizens are greedy and will dump anyone else in order to save themselves. It is absolutely true that seniors depend heavily on Medicare and Social Security, and (rightly) feel that after paying into the system all their working lives, they are owed benefits from these two programs. But senior citizens also have families — children and grandchildren and great grandchildren. The Baby Boomer, Gen X, and Millenial children and grandchildren of today’s seniors have also payed into Social Security and Medicare all their working lives. Likewise, they are entitled to the same benefits as their parents. And those senior-aged parents want to keep their children’s futures financially secure.
Anyone paying attention to the current crises involving Medicare and Social Security knows that without reforms, these programs will implode right when Gen X’ers like myself reach retirement age. Therefore, I believe that we will start seeing a surprising amount of support among senior citizens for real Social Security and Medicare reform, because those reforms will protect the financial security not only of senior citizens, but of the children and grandchildren that they care very deeply about.
Once Americans begin to understand the extent of the Medicare cuts hidden in the Affordable Care Act, there is a good chance that they will begin to ask more questions about what is really in the bill. When that happens, the Romney campaign should already have their script ready — massive tax hikes, $1.5 trillion in new spending, further intrusion of the IRS into personal and business finances, 15 million still without insurance, over 1200 exemption waivers mostly for special interests such as labor unions, etc. Once a discussion of these issues is forced by the Romney camp, the American people are going to be very unhappy with the answers.
And that leaves the Democrats stuck between a rock and a hard place. They can only attack so many times before voters start to ask, “Okay let’s see your plan.” The Democrats don’t have a financially solvent plan for reforming the funding mechanisms of Medicare and Social Security. They never have. They also lack any kind of a backup plan to shore up Obamacare in the event that another one of its major parts fails financially. Already, the Class Act (the long-term health insurance plan that was one of the main pillars of Obamacare’s benefits package) has been terminated because it was financially unsustainable.
This leaves Republicans with the responsibility of presenting a set of straight-forward, easy to understand plans for repealing Obamacare (while preserving its worthwhile benefits, such as guaranteed insurance coverage for people with pre-existing conditions), replacing it with a set of health care reforms that actually work, and easing the enormous financial and regulatory burden that the Obama Administration has placed on the American economy. And there is no one better than Paul Ryan to be the spokesman for those plans.
Personally I didn’t believe that the Republicans could ever pull off an effective strategy to get disgruntled Americans across the nation to start talking about the structural failures of Barack Obama’s policies. But it seems to be happening. By making the Democrats respond to criticisms of their own policies, based on arguments and attacks from their own political playbook, Romney and Ryan have begun to exploit a serious weakness in the Democratic party. Let’s hope they can keep the pressure on through November.