BUZZFLASH NEWS ANALYSIS
by Meg White
I’m no political tactician, but I know a cheap video backed up by nonsensical scare tactics when I see one. And the latest attempt at smearing President Obama’s healthcare initiatives coming out of Republican Party headquarters is exactly that. Take a look:
My favorite part is the end, where Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele says: “Oh, and President Obama? It’s not too late to change your mind. Stand with us, and stand with seniors. After all, they’ve earned it.”
If you watch closely, you can see a weird little grimace emanating from Steele’s half open mouth before the blackout, as if he knows that he’s peddling some serious bull (for more on the lies themselves, check out Media Matters, which does a good job dissecting the content of the new RNC ad).
You’d think he’d be used to that icky taste in his mouth by now. After all, it’s been a full week since the publication of his op-ed in The Washington Post trumpeting his “Seniors’ Health Care Bill of Rights.”
I noted the hypocrisy of Republicans rushing to the right hand side of Medicare on its 44th birthday earlier this year:
So, if it works and people like it, how is the GOP using Medicare to campaign against healthcare reform? Easy: They’re arguing that Obama is going to pay for reform by cutting Medicare.
Obama said this week that he would not make cuts or changes to Medicare, but that he wanted to make it more efficient. But that doesn’t stop the GOP from stoking the fear seniors have over what would happen if they lost Medicare, and connecting it with healthcare reforms now on the table.
Granted, there is a good reason people are afraid of Medicare disappearing: Republicans have been threatening to kill it for decades. They’ve suggested cutting funding and/or privatizing Medicare pretty much since it began. Now, all of the sudden, they are great defenders of the program.
But then Steele had the audacity to come out in favor of revamping the inefficient parts of Medicare to make it more cost-effective. This is the same proposal that Obama has made, which Steele maligns as raiding Medicare. One of the very few members of the media to call Steele out on this fundamental flaw in logic was Steve Inskeep of National Public Radio. You can listen to the full interview with Steele here (I recommend it, if you have a free minute or two; Steele’s arrogance in the face of the stark truth is amazing, especially when he calls Inskeep’s facts “a wonderful interpretation by the left”) but here’s a portion of the transcript from the broadcast last week:
INSKEEP: So you would be in favor of certain Medicare cuts?
STEELE: Absolutely. You want to maximize the efficiencies of the program. I mean, anyone who’s in the program would want you to do that, and certainly those who manage it want you to that.
INSKEEP: Here’s another thing that I’m trying to figure out: Within a couple of paragraphs of writing we need to protect Medicare, you write that you oppose President Obama’s, quote, plan for a government-run health care system.
INSKEEP: Now you’re a veteran public policy official. You’re aware that Medicare is a government-run health care program.
STEELE: Yeah, look how it’s run. And that’s my point. Take Medicare and make it writ large across the country, because here we’re now – how many times have we been to the precipice of bankruptcy for a government-run health care program?
INSKEEP: It sounds like you don’t like Medicare very much at all…
STEELE: No, I’m not saying that. No, Medicare…
INSKEEP: …but you write in this op-ed that you want to protect Medicare because it’s politically popular. People like Medicare.
STEELE: No, no, no, no, no. Please, don’t…
INSKEEP: That’s why you’re writing to protect Medicare.
Listening to that interview last week, I saw the precariously hypocritical line the GOP was trying to walk. But I didn’t think they’d be able to get away with the gross distortion of being Medicare’s best friend, or taking it to the lengths that they have with this silly bill-of-rights bull.
How do they continue to get away with it? As the president recently pointed out, the media has been extremely lax in calling out the lies propagated by the right about the healthcare legislation. But the administration and its party — as well as its political outreach group, Organizing for America (OFA) — have really fallen down on the job here, making the undermining of said effort a piece of proverbial cake.
Joan Walsh, editor-in-chief of Salon.com, explained Wednesday her frustration with being asked for donations by OFA after they — and their benefactors — fumbled the healthcare reform play:
The lies took hold at least partly because reform foes have been more organized that reform supporters, including OFA. But I also found myself rephrasing a familiar gripe: How can Obama ask his supporters to rise up and fight for him when he hasn’t defined what they’re fighting for?
…if I’d been one of Obama’s legendary small donors, I’d tell [OFA Director] Mitch Stewart that he won’t get another dime from me until the president comes out swinging in September for the kind of reform he promised on the campaign trail back when he was raking in all that dough — and for me, that includes a robust public option.
I got a healthcare-related e-mail from Stewart and OFA this morning which ends, “There’s too much at stake for any of us to sit this one out. Please chip in.” My sentiments were similar to Walsh’s. Had I been “one of Obama’s legendary small donors,” I’d ask Stewart what the hell he’s doing with my money, and why it seems like the leader of his party is the one who’s chosen to “sit this one out.”
To be fair, there are some signs of life at this late stage in the debate. Chris Good prints the Democratic National Committee’s robust reaction to Steele’s proposal as an addendum to his piece at The Atlantic Online. DNC Communications Director Brad Woodhouse said this in his response to Steele (emphasis mine):
Michael Steele takes the cake — appearing in an ad today promising “zero” cuts to Medicare less than 24 hours after he told ABC’s Top Line, that “absolutely” there needed to be efficiencies and an elimination of waste in Medicare — which is exactly what President Obama and Democrats have proposed. The RNC’s “Seniors’ Bill Of Rights” is nothing more than a scare tactic built on a foundation of lies about the effort to reform health insurance. Which begs the question, why can’t Republicans debate health insurance reform on the merits instead of making stuff up out of whole cloth? Because they know the crux of what President Obama has proposed — lowering costs, preserving choice, expanding access and reversing decades of unfair insurance industry practices — is popular with the American people and they don’t stand a chance of blocking reform if they deal with the issue honestly.
And luckily, it seems seniors aren’t buying the RNC’s lies, at least on the official level. The AARP released a statement in reaction to Steele’s proposal that said in part that they “are pleased nothing in the bills that have been proposed would bring about the scenarios the RNC is concerned about.”
But, as I said, this is extremely late in the game, calling for a different type of play. At this point, the only way to combat the GOP on the ground level of this issue is to do exactly what Steele is challenging the president to do: Join up.
The president should indeed “come out swinging” this month, as Walsh suggested. He should swing for Medicare for All. This cost-effective option is almost unbeatable from a public relations standpoint, now that the GOP has finally begun to sing the praises of Medicare. If I were advising him, I’d tell President Obama to get behind that presidential seal in front of a bunch of cameras in prime time, and say something like this:
OK, Chairman Steele. I’ll take you up on your offer to find something we can all agree on: Medicare is a wonderful program. So let’s give every citizen the option of enrolling in it.
And that whole bill of rights thing is right on. I agree, as I always have, that we should not make cuts to Medicare. I agree that we should not only keep the patient-doctor relationship firmly intact, but strengthen it by making insurance companies more respectful of that relationship. We also agree that healthcare should not be rationed by age, but I’d also like to add “pre-existing conditions” to that list of non-discrimination.
The only way to achieve these objectives, however, is through a public option — one that we will call “Medicare for All.” Stand with me, Chairman Steele. Stand with seniors and the rest of the American people.
BUZZFLASH NEWS ANALYSIS