Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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April 13, 2011

THERE ARE ONLY SO MANY WAYS TO PARSE 'PRIVATIZE'.... Five years ago, one of the more annoying aspects of the debate over Social Security privatization was fighting over the word "privatization." Apparently, the "p" word doesn't poll well, so the Bush White House and its allies had to engage in rhetorical acrobatics.

We're not trying to privatize Social Security, they said, we simply want to overhaul the program so that Americans put their money into private accounts instead of the Social Security system. Who said anything about privatization?

It was only a matter of time before these same Republicans tried a similar line on Medicare.

Faced with growing public skepticism of House Republicans' plans to privatize Medicare, Speaker John Boehner claimed Wednesday that the GOP's Medicare privatization plan doesn't privatize Medicare.

"There's no privatizing of Medicare," Boehner said. "We're transforming Medicare so that it'll be there for the future."

I guess the "p" word still doesn't poll well.

I can appreciate the Speaker's desire to spin this, but reality is stubborn. As we discussed last week, Medicare is very easy to understand -- it's a popular system of socialized, single-payer health care for seniors. Beneficiaries love it, and the system works pretty well.

The House Republican scheme for Medicare is a little more complicated, but still pretty straightforward -- the GOP intends to eliminate the existing program and privatize it. The resulting system would, ironically, look quite a bit like the Affordable Care Act, with seniors entering exchanges, where they would take a subsidy to purchase private insurance. (The voucher wouldn't keep up with costs, increasing the financial burden on the elderly.)

This is the definition of "privatization." Indeed, If Boehner doesn't think his own caucus' plan constitutes "privatization," what, pray tell, does he think privatization would look like?

My concern going forward is that the media will screw this up. News organizations won't want to use the "p" word because Republicans, reality notwithstanding, say the word isn't accurate. The public will hear a stunted debate because media outlets are too often cowed into using politician-endorsed word choice, rather than accurate descriptions.

Steve Benen 12:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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And where they might at least treat this as a "he said - she said" issue -- ie, one side says privatize, the other says no -- instead they will adopt wholesale the Republican demands for censorship and not even use the word.

The media are even more scared than the Democrats. Ya gotta admit, the Republican bitch-slap policies have worked remarkably well.

Posted by: bleh on April 13, 2011 at 12:40 PM | PERMALINK

Well, instead of "privatizing" it, they could call it 'restructuring.'

Except a whole lot of people were 'restructured' right out of their jobs in the past few years.

Maybe they could call it "Magically Delicious!" But, that's probably a copyright infringement.

Posted by: c u n d gulag on April 13, 2011 at 12:40 PM | PERMALINK

Call it what it is: It's the If Granny Can't Afford It in Her Old Age, She'll Die from Lack of Care Act!

The moral depravity these Republican leaders choose to display in public would rival any authoritarian anywhere at any time in our world's past! Medicare is not only viable socio-economic policy, it resonates the "we care for our people" statement we've broadcast now for generations to all the world.

Destroying Medicare would change us as a people, and not necessarily for the good!

Is that what we want these Republicans to do to us? If not, vote against every Republican on the ballot the next time you're in the polling booth. -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on April 13, 2011 at 12:43 PM | PERMALINK

Why doesn't someone ask Ryan how he expects people to buy vouchers? I thought mandating people to buy insurance was unconstitutional and the first step toward tyranny.

Posted by: jeremy on April 13, 2011 at 12:44 PM | PERMALINK

Media reporters and commentators -- electronic and print-- will be fully compliant with the latest GOP lingo whatever it may be so long as Boehner sends them an updated glossery every few weeks.

Posted by: John B. on April 13, 2011 at 12:46 PM | PERMALINK

Credit where due: NPR's often-awful-on-this-count Mara Liasson this morning described Ryan's plan as straightforwardly privatizing Medicare. I am still nervous that the media will get this badly wrong, but Liasson is often a good leading indicator of Beltway CW, and she got it entirely (and simply) right.

Posted by: jkd on April 13, 2011 at 12:48 PM | PERMALINK

I tend to think of privatization as an Orwellian term to make opportunistic parasites seem less despicable.

Posted by: Kill Bill on April 13, 2011 at 12:49 PM | PERMALINK

What I'd rather see than discussions of semantics is a pointed campaign to remind people of why Medicare got started in the first place.

To wit: old people couldn't get insurance; private insurers did not want to insure them and charged accordingly. A problem that is only about 100 times worse today than it was back in the 1960s.

Doesn't matter what the Republicans call their plan to privatize; essentially their argument is "let's go back to doing it the way it didn't work before which caused us to start doing it this way instead."

Their issue isn't even really with Medicare itself; it's with the idea that no private companies are being allowed to rape Grandma. It's not a free market if it's not open season on each and every one of us.

Posted by: Jennifer on April 13, 2011 at 12:50 PM | PERMALINK

Any Democrat commenting on the the GOP's proposal should ALWAYS use "privatizing" when discussing the plan. It is not hard to remember, and it worked in killing Bush's plan to privatize and destroy Social Security.

Posted by: Michael Carpet on April 13, 2011 at 12:51 PM | PERMALINK

The public will hear a stunted debate because media outlets are too often cowed into using politician-endorsed word choice, rather than accurate descriptions.

The above should actually read...

The public will hear a stunted debate because media outlets are too often willingly using republican-endorsed word choice, rather than accurate descriptions.

Frank Luntz continues to provide the misleading phrases that the republicans have their corporately owned media echo.

Posted by: SadOldVet on April 13, 2011 at 12:53 PM | PERMALINK

I totally disagree with the idea that Media is cowed into lying to us. The Corporate Owners can easily tell their editors and writers to accurately report what various politicians say or propose. If a message or plan is reported incorrectly or in a manner that causes confusion or misconceptions, that is by choice, not because they are "cowed".

Posted by: T2 on April 13, 2011 at 12:54 PM | PERMALINK

I always say commercials say a lot about who network and its advertisers think is watching a given show: you'll see a lot of denture cream and annuity commercials watching Matlock on the Hallmark Channel at 2:00AM, for example; obviously all the manly truck, beer, and fast food commercials are on during NFL games; Lifetime is all osteoporosis, feminine hygeine, and cleaning products. Anywho, are seniors the GOP's demographic right now? I kinda thought they were in some areas, but Repugs are not acting like it. Who likes the Ryan plan? The Koch Brothers, DC Villagers, corporate interests, and reactionaries under 55. Is that a winning coalition? For President, no. For control of Congress? Maybe ... but mostly, it keeps the campaign money flowing in from suckers everywhere. That's the game here, the big cash grab, nothing more. Not even votes.

Posted by: ManOutOfTime on April 13, 2011 at 12:57 PM | PERMALINK

Only homicide bombers call it privatization.

Posted by: Raenelle on April 13, 2011 at 1:05 PM | PERMALINK

In a Perfect World, we would all live within our means, and save 10% of our income, from first paper route to final retirement. Where the "Magic of Compound Interest!" would have us sitting on a multi million dollar nest egg, and we could pay the doctor direct, not with chickens, but cold cash.

Sadly, we do not live in a perfect world, and need Big Brother to help us out.

Posted by: DAY on April 13, 2011 at 1:06 PM | PERMALINK

I think the way to explain it so that the Republican base can understand it is that Ryan wants to transform Medicare from single payer to Obamacare.
I think they'll be able to understand why that would be a bad idea.

Posted by: Johnny Canuck on April 13, 2011 at 1:10 PM | PERMALINK

We won that fight 5 years ago Steve. From where I sit there was nothing annoying about the fight over the word privatizing then and there shouldn't be now. Only Republicans should be annoyed by it's use.

Posted by: markg8 on April 13, 2011 at 1:16 PM | PERMALINK

The public will hear a stunted debate because media outlets are too often cowed into using politician-endorsed word choice, rather than accurate descriptions.

Well in that case, the media should say that the Ryan plan is a death panel for seniors. We know they've been cleared by Republicans to use that language.

Posted by: SWENXOF on April 13, 2011 at 1:19 PM | PERMALINK

Sadly, when the republican spending spree, AKA the Bush regime, crashed the world's economy, many people's nest eggs crashed with it.

Thank God for Medicare!

Posted by: James at home on April 13, 2011 at 1:23 PM | PERMALINK

Another euphemism for privatization used by both Dems and R's is "public/private partnerships". Except it's not really a partnership in which both parties share the benefits.

Guess which side makes out the best. Hint: Not the public side.

Posted by: jcgrim on April 13, 2011 at 1:27 PM | PERMALINK

The more important word is "eliminate." They don't want to privatize Medicare. Medicare cannot be privatized. They want to eliminate Medicare and replace it with something else.

Posted by: SteveV on April 13, 2011 at 1:27 PM | PERMALINK

Hey Raenelle @ 1:05pm - concise parody or non-sequitor trolling? Which do you intend?-Kevo

Posted by: kevo on April 13, 2011 at 1:32 PM | PERMALINK

Shorter GOP: Just let grandma die. She no longer contributes money to the economy and is nothing but a burden on our hard-inherited dollars.

Posted by: MsJoanne on April 13, 2011 at 2:24 PM | PERMALINK
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