The headline in The New York Times today gets right to the point: "Challenged on Medicare, G.O.P. Loses Ground." Either this is just another blatant case of media bias--or Republicans have a problem.
We'll know the answer for sure in about seven weeks, but in the meantime, we might at least consider the thrust of reporter Jackie Calmes' Times story. Calmes recalls that in 2010, the Republicans seemed to have found a winning formula: Attack Democrats for cutting Medicare, which they had done, in fact, as part of their Obamacare legislation. Back then, it was the Democrats who were throwing around such scary concepts as rationing--which Sarah Palin so memorably tangibilized into "death panels."
Indeed, it was easy to argue--because it was true--that Obamacare drained away money from Medicare. Democrats screamed that Republicans were attacking them for doing what they, Republicans, had long wanted to do, namely, cut Medicare. But the Democrats' complaints were to no avail. And so on that issue, among others, the Democrats were clobbered in the 2010 midterms.
It's possible that Republicans might have come away from that happy experience with the lesson that Medicare is sacrosanct, but, according to Calmes, that isn't what happened. Instead, the GOP took away a different lesson: Republicans, spearheaded by Paul Ryan, can go on the offensive; they can run, and win, on Medicare reform. And yet if the Times and its data are to be believed, it's not working out so well:
In the Times/CBS poll, more than three-quarters of voters favored keeping Medicare the way it is rather than switching to a system like the one backed by Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan. From the White House on down, Democrats are calling the Republican approach a "voucher" plan, suggesting that it borders on privatizing the system; Republicans prefer the term "premium support."
And Calmes next quotes a well-known pollster, Andrew Kohut of the Pew Research Center, on the impact of Paul Ryan, his past House budget proposals, and the Medicare issue right now:
"The Republicans brought it back to life," Mr. Kohut added -- first by House Republicans' approval this year and last of the Ryan budgets, which died in the Democratic-controlled Senate, and most of all by Mr. Romney's elevation of Mr. Ryan to the presidential ticket.
Of course, Kohut is a pillar of the DC polling/media establishment--having long worked for the parent company of The Los Angeles Times--and so some will no doubt dismiss him as simply another spokesman for liberal interests. Once again, we'll have to wait a while to know for sure whether Kohut's Medicare meditations are a case of analyzing--or spinning.
Meanwhile, there's more from Calmes, suggesting that the Democrats are seeking to take advantage of past Republican pushes on entitlements, even beyond Medicare:
Soon, strategists say, Democrats will buttress their Medicare message by charging that a Romney-Ryan administration could also seek to alter Social Security, the other popular entitlement program. They will point out Mr. Ryan's support in 2005 for President George W. Bush's proposal to allow workers to divert Social Security payroll taxes into private accounts, a plan that flopped even though Republicans controlled both houses of Congress.
So is this Democratic attack going to work? Most in the conservative/libertarian intelligentsia say "no," even "hell no," but Democrats do seem confident that Medicare is a killer app of an issue. Here's House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, according to a CNN story that appeared under the headline, "Pelosi says Ryan pick makes it easier for Dems to take House":
We have been saying there are three important issues in this campaign. And in alphabetical order, they are Medicare, Medicare, Medicare.
So who's right? Who's going to win on Medicare? The Pelosi Democrats--or the Ryan Republicans? Once again, we'll know in seven weeks--51 days, to be exact.
But we do know this: If either party, Republican or Democratic, were leading with a "Cure Strategy," as opposed to a "Cut Strategy," it's hard to see how they would be suffering at the polls as a result.
That is, who in America would have voted against the Democrats in 2010 if Dems had announced a crash effort to eliminate, say, Alzheimer's? Similarly, who would be voting against Republicans today if the GOP had made the same cure-Alzheimer's argument in 2012?
If the answer, in both cases, is "no one," then you have to wonder why neither party chose to advance that cure-first argument.