Posted by: JanF | April 22, 2011

What did they think?

The news is filled with stories about Republican congressmen going home to their districts and having to defend their vote to end Medicare as we know it.

The headline screams “More Republican Congressmen Face Town Hall Backlash Over Tax Breaks For Wealthy And Medicare Privatization” and the story includes this iconic drawing to remind us of Town Halls and their place in American politics:
Town Hall - Norman Rockwell

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) in Milton WI and Rep. Lou Barletta (R-PA) in Carbon County, PA both faced pushback to their plan to destroy Medicare in order to cut taxes on the wealthy.

When Barletta essentially said “don’t worry your pretty little head … it only affects those under 55 years of age,” he found out that “I’ve got mine, screw you” is actually not what most people feel. It is only what most Republicans feel. His constituent, Linda Christman reminded him:

CHRISTMAN: Excuse me, I’d like to get something off my chest. And that is, you seem to think that because I’m not affected, I won’t care if my niece, my grandson, my child is affected. I do care. And what you’re doing with this Ryan budget is you’re taking Medicare and you’re changing it from a guaranteed health care system to one that is a voucher system where you throw seniors on the mercy of for-profit insurance companies.

Rep. Robert Dold (R-IL) heard this in Buffalo Grove IL:

Some in the audience then told Dold they don’t like the idea in the Ryan budget plan of Medicare becoming a voucher program that makes senior citizens buy private health insurance about 10 years from now. Audience members said buying private insurance is a shell game where no one really knows what costs a company will cover or to what

Rep. Charlie Bass (R-NH) got a taste of it also in Hillsborough, NH :

… his constituents repeatedly questioned why the congressman voted in favor of Ryan’s budget. The first question out of the gate during his Wednesday town hall in Hillsborough, NH was about his vote for Paul Ryan’s budget. And the second. And the third and the fourth, fifth and sixth questions.

I’m sorry but I don’t get this. What did they think would happen?

Were they in a right-wing echo chamber?

Did they dramatically misread the 2010 mid-terms as more than a typical mid-term made worse by bad economic conditions and an astroturf movement made up of people who had been told, ironically, that the Affordable Care Act would kill Medicare?

Were they attempting to blow up a nuclear device in the hopes of moving the Overton Window dramatically to the right for some kind of “reduction in Medicare” that would seem more palatable?

Were they like Dick Cheney who famously said “So?” when confronted with a poll that said a huge majority of Americans wanted to get out of Iraq?

Were they like George W. Bush who said that he did not pay attention to the polls because people wanted him to decide based on his gut feelings?

I don’t have the answers. I am truly befuddled because as a reality-based person this kind of disconnect from reality makes no sense to me at all.

We do know this. Ronald Reagan, the patron saint of conservative politics, warned about not stopping Medicare:

“… behind it will come other government programs that will invade every area of freedom as we have known it in this country until one day as Norman Thomas said we will wake to find that we have socialism. We are going to spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children, what it once was like in America when men were free.”

Maybe he was right. Back then men were free to die because they could not afford healthcare and free to go bankrupt and to bankrupt their children to pay for health care. Or maybe Reagan was worried that people would like it and never want to give it up. A McClatchy poll asked what should be cut to “fix” the deficit:

Americans clearly don’t want the government to cut Medicare, the government health program for the elderly, or Medicaid, the program for the poor. Republicans in the House of Representatives voted last week to drastically restructure and reduce those programs, while Obama calls for trimming their costs but leaving them essentially intact.

Voters oppose cuts to those programs by 80-18 percent. Even among conservatives, only 29 percent supported cuts, and 68 percent opposed them.

Wildly Popular

The Republicans struck a nerve. Medicare is not just a popular program, it is a wildly popular program.

I am not sure what they thought but there are two things that Democrats and progressives must do.

We need to make sure that no one forgets that this is the Republican agenda and that they simply voted for what has been in what passes for their hearts all these years. As Vice President Joe Biden said, they have merely come out of the closet or, more to the point, their rat hole.

We must not let them scurry back into that closet and hide behind their cloaks of “compassionate conservative” or insisting that it is not really “ending Medicare” but “saving it.”

Be like Linda Christman and the guy in the Norman Rockwell drawing. Go to town halls, speak your mind and make sure this stays in the news.

This news cycle is week 16 of 2011. We need to keep this front and center through the news cycle of week 44 of 2012.

Your future and your children’s future and your grandchildren’s future depends on us reminding people that a budget is a moral document and that a Progressive vision of the future does not balance those budgets on the backs of the least among us.

It really is that important.

(A version of this was originally posted on 04/22/2011 at BPI Campus)