Ross Douthat contemplates a world in which both political parties dedicate themselves to scaring the seniors.
If the Democratic Party’s attempt at health care reform perishes, senior citizens will have done it in, not talk-radio listeners and Glenn Beck acolytes. It’s the skepticism of over-65 Americans that’s dragging support for reform southward. And it’s their opposition to cost-cutting that makes finding the money to pay for it so difficult.
That’s because they’re the ones whose benefits are on the chopping block. At present, Medicare gives its recipients all the benefits of socialized medicine, with few of the drawbacks. Once you hit 65, the system pays and pays, without regard for efficiency or cost-effectiveness.
You can understand why Republicans, after decades of being demagogued for proposing even modest entitlement reforms, would relish the chance to turn the tables. But this is a perilous strategy for the right.
Medicare’s price tag, if trends continue, will make a mockery of the idea of limited government. For conservatives, no fiscal cause is more important than curbing this exponential growth. And by fighting health care reform with tactics ripped from Democratic playbooks, and enlisting anxious seniors as foot soldiers, conservatives are setting themselves up to win the battle and lose the longer war.
Maybe Republicans will be able to cast themselves as the protectors of entitlements today, and then impose their own even more sweeping reforms tomorrow. That’s the playbook that McConnell, Brownback and others seem to have in mind: first, save Medicare from Obama; then, save Medicare from itself.
I would advise Republican strategists to jump off that bridge when they come to it. I would also advise them that one of Obama's major problems is that he is promoting a vision, not a plan - the details matter a great deal, but Obama has not supplied them, in deference to House and Senate leaders.
Now, Obama chose that path in order to avoid what Dems have decided was a major failing of the cramdown approach taken by HillaryCare.
I think Republicans could reslice the problem into manageable bites. For Congress to attempt to restructure one-sixth of the US economy prior to repealing the Law of Unintended Consequences is daunting to any reasonable person.