|Republican Paul Ryan’s proposal for changes to the Medicare budget has been vilified by Democrats who say it gives tax cuts to the rich while taking much-needed benefits away from seniors [GALLO/GETTY]|
It has been, how shall we say – amusing – to watch the fall-out among Republicans after they lost a congressional district in upstate New York last week, one that no Democrat has held since around the time of the Second Punic War.
There has been teeth-gnashing, public expressions of exasperation, and no shortage of live performance art of the five stages of grief among conservative Republicans. In fact, from what I hear, in the ultimate act of protest, Newt Gingrich has threatened to get married again.
Ok, I jest. But the reality is, in the aftermath of this potential predictor of what is to come in 2012, Democrats and Republicans alike are suffering from the very same problem: a denial of reality.
What ails each of America’s political parties – causing them to win an election cycle or two, and then in no time turning the electorate into an angry mob against them – can be summed up neatly as follows: Democrats lose because they habitually underreach, Republicans because they obsessively overreach.
Neither side seems to understand their mandate.
Obviously, this is a bit of an oversimplification – but not too much. So let’s provide a little illumination by examining a specific example.
For this task, no better example exists than the Medicare melee set off by Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan’s document formerly known as a budget. In no time, it would turn this most successful of health care programmes into something as useless as car keys for a rhesus monkey or modesty for a Palin.
Ryan’s “budget” – which has been called a “fraud that makes no useful contribution to the debate over America’s fiscal future” by Nobel Prize winning economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman – claims to balance the books, but nobody who’s read it has been able to figure out exactly how.
What people do understand is that it takes a successful, single-payer, health care system enjoyed by seniors, and eliminates it, while larding tax cut upon tax cut onto the Coors, Koch, and Kardashian families. Wonderful.
Shockingly, many seniors don’t like being destitute.
So when Republican Jane Corwin based her congressional race on supporting Ryan’s budget, and Democrat Kathy Hochul promised to oppose it, Corwin was turned into road-pizza by Medicare recipients (and those soon to be) who stampeded over her political corpse to get to the polls and protect their hard-earned benefits.
Of course, seniors, who heavily supported the GOP during their Democratic thumping in 2010 were not expecting to have their health care taken away – it is not what they were promised or what they voted for during the midterm election.
But when else has the GOP cared for what reason they were voted into power?
George W Bush used a re-election in 2004, based upon fear of terrorism, to try and cut social security, and Newt Gingrich used his 1994 ascendance to impeach a sitting president over consensual sex. We should be thankful John Boehner didn’t use the 2010 election as the justification for forced bed-tanning.
In other words, knowing why they were put in office does not seem to be the GOP’s strong suit. But then again, sadly, the same can be said of Democrats.
One would think that after this clear-cut victory, president Obama might mention the word “Medicare” in his congratulatory note to Hochul, or that Democratic House Representative Steny Hoyer might not immediately cop to the Democrats’ willingness to compromise on – you guessed it – Medicare.
You of course would be wrong. Because, man, there’s nothing in the world today’s Democrats love more than operating from a position of strength and bargaining it away, as Bon Jovi might say, “in a blaze of glory”.
Just ask the public option. Or all those too-big-to-fail banks that have been broken up.
So the Democrats are currently set up for a big victory in 2012. But if they trade away Medicare on the fetishised alter of “bipartisanship” and adopt other items on the wish list of Washington (such as insider efforts to “balance the budget” by cutting entitlements, while ignoring real budget-busters such as out-of-control defence spending, a growing number of never-ending wars, and farm subsidies for Agri-Godzillas…) they’ll hurt their momentum in 2012 and likely set themselves up to get hammered in 2014.
Sadly, however, it won’t be the Democrats or Republicans, but the people who will lose if neither party represents the vast majority of Americans. Even 70 per cent of self-identified “Tea Party members” in a recent McClatchy-Marist Poll rightfully think paying into Medicare might be a reason to expect to get it.
Or that health care might be something a civilised society provides its members, particularly its elderly.
I think I can say with confidence that Republicans won’t come to their rescue. So I guess the only choice Democrats have to make is whether the “only thing they have to fear is fear itself”, or whether losing a few corporate donors and the approval of wealthy Washingtonians is just a bit scarier.
Cliff Schecter is the President of Libertas, LLC, a progressive public relations firm, the author of the 2008 bestseller The Real McCain, and a regular contributor to The Huffington Post. Follow Cliff Schecter On Twitter: @Cliffschecter
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.