Obama and entitlements

There is more than a little trepidation on the liberal side of the blogosphere about President Obama’s speech tomorrow night presenting an alternative to Rep. Paul Ryan’s radical plan to eliminate Medicare as we know it and slash Medicaid. The legitimate concern is that Obama will present a reasonable and moderate alternative to Ryan’s immoral attack on seniors and the poor that will serve as a base for negotiations – with the final result being halfway between moderate reasonableness and batsh*t crazy.

Considering that the last time Obama “negotiated” with Republicans, Democrats ended up giving them more budget cuts than they initially demanded, the trepidation is warranted. The mistake Obama has consistently made in dealing with Republicans is his initial assumption that they, like he is, deal in good faith, propose reasonable policy prescriptions and are interested in a genuine debate about how to achieve a specific end.

The health care debate should have disabused him of that notion. Republicans played a delaying action while they used lies and distortions to build public opposition to the plan. Despite the fact that significant concessions were made to Republicans during lengthy negotiations – and that the overall plan itself was a market-based reform effort filled with ideas developed by conservatives, it soon became clear there Republicans never had any intention of even considering a bipartisan approach. Their entire political strategy depended on hanging Obama out to dry. But the lesson doesn’t appear to have sunk in.

Still, there’s some reason to hope that Obama will use his Wednesday speech to draw a line in the sand. (Geek alert: I am suddenly reminded of the speech by Capt. Jean Luc Picard in “Star Trek: First Contact“: “We’ve made too many compromises already; too many retreats. They invade our space and we fall back. They assimilate entire worlds and we fall back. Not again. The line must be drawn here! This far, no further! And I will make them pay for what they’ve done.” Now there’s an oratorical model for Obama to embrace tomorrow.)

After all, it cannot be overemphasized how extreme Ryan’s approach – now embraced by the Republican leadership – is. Obama should tell the nation that Republicans are planning to end Medicare as we know it and shred Medicaid’s safety net for children, the poor and elderly in nursing homes while slashing taxes for the wealthy. He should say this approach is un-American and unacceptable. He should make it clear that the alternative he offers is not

Whatever plan for Medicare and Medicaid Obama presents should be judged by the same standard expressed in a recent Roanoke Times editorial: “Any deficit-reduction plan that fails to find a way to contain health care costs is nothing but a rejection of the promise of health care security for older Americans.”

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