Call it ‘Medi-scare’ if you like, it’s still true

Apparently, Republicans have a new definition of demagoguery: Telling the truth about what Republicans want to do.

After Democrat Kathy Hochul won a special election in New York on Tuesday largely by attacking the Republican plan to privatize Medicare championed by Rep. Paul Ryan, Ryan said this:

And what they do in this particular case with Medicare, they are shamelessly demagoguing it and distorting this — we call it Medi-scare — to try and scare seniors.

Yglesias had a good post yesterday pointing out the long pedigree of the term “Medi-scare.” William Safire accused Bill Clinton of engaging in “Medi-scare” when he attacked then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich for a plan to slowly privatize the program. Gingrich, remember, admitted that his plan and hope was for Medicare to “whither on the vine.” Pointing that out was decried as demagoguery. Bob Dole hit the same note during the 1996 campaign:

Instead of working with Republicans and with the Democrats to try to secure, preserve and strengthen Medicare, the President chose to engage in a campaign to scare American seniors. We call it Mediscare! Mediscare! Mediscare! All the ads you see in Florida, all the ads you see in Florida, are negative Mediscare ads!

Again, the Republican plan wasn’t to secure, preserve or strengthen Medicare. It was to see it whither on the vine. To be fair to Gingrich, his plan was far less radical than Ryan’s. He would have preserved traditional Medicare while instituting a private option that he hoped would make the public option look unattractive. As a cost-savings mechanism, however, that approach has been pretty well proven not to work.

So, is it still Medi-scare if it’s true? For all of Ryan’s complaints about demagoguing and distorting, Democrats have been doing little more than describing what the plan would actually do: Replace Medicare’s guaranteed health coverage with vouchers for private insurance – vouchers almost guaranteed not to cover the full price of care. Now there’s been some silliness from usually reliable fact-checking organizations about whether ending Medicare as we know it is the same thing as ending Medicare, but the basic outline of Ryan’s plan is indisputable – and pretty well understood by the public, it seems to me. And the public hates it.

That’s not demagoguery.

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