Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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April 26, 2011

FACTS VS FEELINGS.... Democrats are, not surprisingly, hammering Republicans over the GOP budget proposal, with most of the attacks focused on the Republican plan to end Medicare and replace it with a privatized voucher system.

The typical Republican response is that Dems are relying on "scare tactics." It's not that Democrats are wrong, the argument goes, it's just that they're big meanies for telling voters about GOP policies.

The media is echoing the point, and Josh Marshall is right to find it annoying.

I've noted several times that when it comes to issues like Medicare and Social Security, establishment journalism is most focused on whether political rhetoric is inflammatory than on whether it might be true. Or put a different way, the details of how key government programs work is of comparatively trivial importance compared to whether the ads a controversy generates are mean. As yet another instance of this, we have the unfortunate example of ABC's Rick Klein's report on the new politics of Medicare.

Klein laments that "the 'adult conversation' around Medicare reform has taken a detour in the land of adult diapers." And he goes on to explain that that's mainly because Democrats are running ads saying either that the Ryan plans "ends" Medicare (which there's a very strong factual argument that it does) or that it would be deeply damaging to America's seniors (which math suggests it would). And it's bad to run ads like that because that's "Mediscare."

Part of this is the result of an apparent hostility the establishment tends to bring to entitlement programs in general. A knee-jerk discomfort when Democrats go on the offensive at all may have something to do with this, too.

But it's important that the establishment realize the difference between demagoguery and ringing an alarm. Demagoguery relies on falsehoods to scare people -- it's about playing on folks' worst instincts, being divisive in a deceptive sort of way, effectively fooling people into believing something they shouldn't.

Political rhetoric isn't "demagoguery" when it's true. If a political message leads the mainstream to feel scared, it's not necessarily "scare tactics" if people have good reason to worry.

What Dems are doing are ringing an alarm -- Republicans are up to something dangerous, and Democrats want people to know about it. This makes ABC, Politifact, and much of the establishment antsy, and leads to reports that Dems are being overly "political" because (a) they refuse to go along with unnecessary cuts that would hurt seniors; and (b) they're saying intemperate things like the GOP wants to "end" Medicare.

But what should matter most is the truth, and in this case, the truth is, Republicans want to privatize Medicare out of existence and impose new burdens on those who can't afford them, all while cutting taxes for the wealthy.

That's not "Mediscare"; that's the Republican plan. If pointing this out hurts the GOP's feelings, that's a shame, but sometimes a warning bell needs to be rung, even if some find the sound unpleasant.

Steve Benen 4:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (25)

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Did Rick Klein have his panties in a twist over "death panels?" I'd bet not.

Posted by: sue on April 26, 2011 at 4:44 PM | PERMALINK

they can't defend THE TRUTH about what the GOP wants to do...it's obvious they can't.

Posted by: rikyrah on April 26, 2011 at 4:50 PM | PERMALINK

Hilarious. Republicans can say virtually anything without losing credibility with the village idiots in the beltway press, but let Dems rightly hammer republicans with factual attacks, and feelings suddenly become important.

Nonetheless, the yapping by the lap dogs in the beltway tell me the Dems critiques are hitting a nerve. Keep hammering them!

Posted by: Holmes on April 26, 2011 at 4:53 PM | PERMALINK

Demagoguery = ACA referred to as ObamaCare, and then explained as Death Panels!

Was our beloved national press ready for such demagoguery, or did it simply get bulled into rewriting Right Wing talking points and promoting a he said / she said dynamic that obfuscated the real issues before us at that time?

I think we know the answer to that one by now!

Just the Facts Jack = the Ryan Plan ends Medicare as we have known it for the past three generations!

Is our beloved national press ready for this one, or are they doing the same lazy shit they did on the last national dust up? I think we are seeing the latter, and not the former, and I cannot help but think the media is remiss in this needed national debate and dialog regrding its obligation to get the story, but to get is accurately and with all relevant sides equally covered!

Have we heard lately and often from the national news media about the progressive caucus budget deficit reduction plan?


Well that silence speaks volumes of value for your above post Mr. Benen! -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on April 26, 2011 at 4:58 PM | PERMALINK

It's just a matter of time until the Republicans get what they want. Anyone here who thinks the Democrats won't give up the whole store in a series of increasingly large compromises is kidding themselves. And this is why. They're afraid of what gets said about them. They're cowards, and cowards always lose.

Posted by: JMG on April 26, 2011 at 4:58 PM | PERMALINK

In fairness, Obama has lead the accusation that Ryan's plan is a "voucher system". In reality, what Ryan has proposed for Medicare is a system that is eerily reminiscent to ACA's system of providing government subsidies for exchange-regulated insurance plans.

Incidentally, whether you support it or not, this method of reforming Medicare, by shifting beneficiaries out of a government plan and into subsidized private plans has been widely popular in Third-Way democratic circles since the 1990s.

Anyone who would suggest that Ryan's plan "ends Medicare as we know it," but refuses to acknowledge the strong similarities between Ryan's plan and plans that have been popular in New Democrat circles, is being intellectually dishonest.

My suspicion is that Obama is creating a straw man to fight -- vouchers! -- so that when he agrees to "compromise" by "extending the popular ACA model to include Seniors and save costs" by and large Democrats will be bamboozled into thinking that Obama has stood tough.

Posted by: square1 on April 26, 2011 at 5:17 PM | PERMALINK

Funny. I don't remember the media having these concerns when the GOP was on its great Lie-apalooza tour during the Summer of Obama-scare. The media was more than happy to squeeze ratings out of whoppers like death panels and "government-run health care," and got plenty of mileage out of "Republicans Gone Wild" footage from so-called town halls (without ever mentioning, of course, that most of these episodes of "spontaneous public outrage" were choreographed by AFP, AHIP, and the RNC).

There's a double standard ar work here. The Republicans lie so frequently and so boldly that no one blinks when they roll out another whopper, no matter how big. The Democrats, on the other hand, are so defensive and politically inept that no one expects them to actually go on the offensive and treat politics like the bloodsport that it is. Whenever the Democrats get aggressive, the media jumps all over them, scolding them for daring to "play politics" with issues of "great importance" to the American people. Republicans, meanwhile, get a pass.

And if all goes the way it usually does, you can expect the Democrats to show their usual courage and retreat.

Posted by: ameshall on April 26, 2011 at 5:25 PM | PERMALINK

"I never did give anybody hell. I just told the truth and they thought it was hell."--Harry Truman

Posted by: rea on April 26, 2011 at 5:35 PM | PERMALINK

once again...

I would rather have the Postal Service run my health insurance than have EXXON, AT&T, or GE run it, wouldn't you? But that's what Republicans want with their new budget proposals to privatize Medicaid and Medicare.

It's all very fine if you are a member of the upper class who can afford health costs out of pocket, but for the rest of us who deal with health insurance companies we know they do not have the public interest in mind, only short term profit.

Work against the public interest? Corporations? You say.

Well, my young Randian apprentice let's look at the record, which shows many companies cut corners which proved disastrous to the public interest.  Union Carbide in India, BP in the Gulf of Mexico, EXXON In Alaska. There is no reason to think that health companies do any different given they continually raised premiums IN A RECESSION.

Remember, we had pass laws to reign in corporations' greed 100 years ago. 

So to the idealogue Republicans, I say not only NO, but HELL NO!

 America and the world was never more prosperous than during those times when people paid their fair share, this means we must tax the rich and use the money to build infrastructure paying good wages for good work to good people while protecting those who cannot protect themselves.

My cartoon showing Mega Corporations, the uber rich, and the ultra hard right wing dancing on the middle class, poor and elderly expresses my feelings ( Celebrating Paul Ryan's Budget Gutting Medicaid and Medicare )  on the subject. Phaëthon makes an appearance with a story about scorpions and mice in which he explains that while squashing those who support your culture may be counter intuitive, like the scorpion stinging the mouse as they cross a stream causing both to drown, it is useless to blame the sxorpion as it is his nature to sting anything in his vicinity. In general I rather like it although the kooky consecrative caucus may not.

Posted by: KurtRex1453 on April 26, 2011 at 5:47 PM | PERMALINK

'Big Meanies'...I like it. So the deal is we have to just KEEP IT UP until the big meanie movement becomes 'normal'...then and only then will the Media notice. Right now the meme is 'weak, never do anything, cave' and that is carried out in the comments here. I'm ALL for being a BIG MEANIE!

Posted by: SYSPROG on April 26, 2011 at 5:54 PM | PERMALINK

I seem to remember that way, way back in, what year was that, oh, yeah, 2010, that the Republicans demagogued pretty heavily on Medicare cuts. Again, that was so long ago, we shouldn't expect the mainstream press to remember it.

Oh, and as pretty much everyone else has mentioned, the Republicans aren't at all shy at trying to scare the bejesus out of everyone. But, you know, the difference is that they are almost always lying about what's supposed to be so scary, while the Democratic line on Medicare is actually true.

Posted by: Vince on April 26, 2011 at 5:59 PM | PERMALINK

The point of the post -- and most of the comments -- is valid IF you consider matters rationally and on the basis of fact.

But the media mostly -- and increasingly -- operate in the realm of emotion and entertainment. There, "inflammatory" really DOES matter more than "true."

The Left really does need to stop thinking about the media as agents of information. They are at best conduits, and they are willing to conduct only that which entertains.

Posted by: Bleh on April 26, 2011 at 6:38 PM | PERMALINK

rea: ""I never did give anybody hell. I just told the truth and they thought it was hell.""

That is a great quote. Right now, Democrats are telling the truth, and the Republicans and their lapdogs in the Media are feeling the heat. As they should, lying jerks that they are.

Posted by: PTate in MN on April 26, 2011 at 6:55 PM | PERMALINK

And yet they're never bothered when republicans do far worse.

I'm sorry the truth sounds mean. Because you know what? the truth about what they want to do to the safety net isn't just mean, it's cruel.

So they can kiss my ass.

Posted by: Four Legsgood on April 26, 2011 at 7:32 PM | PERMALINK

In reality, what Ryan has proposed for Medicare is a system that is eerily reminiscent to ACA's system of providing government subsidies for exchange-regulated insurance plans. -- square 1, @5:17PM

And your statement is ever so eerily reminiscent of Boehner's talking points. The only difference is in terminology -- you use ACA, rather than Obamacare, in deference to your lefty audience. Funny...

Posted by: exlibra on April 26, 2011 at 9:04 PM | PERMALINK

So tell me again; Republicans have pledged to fight the ACA to the death, but justify their Medicare Evisceration Program by claiming it's just like the ACA? WTF?

Posted by: idlemind on April 26, 2011 at 9:14 PM | PERMALINK

Once you've established that you are the submissive party in a relationship, even bystanders get annoyed when you start to assert your self.

The Democratic Party can thank themselves for 40 years of taking it lying down or bending over, except for Clinton.

If you want to break the pattern you have to get a lot more assertive than is necessary, so that the balance can shift to equal.

Posted by: LosGatosCA on April 26, 2011 at 10:29 PM | PERMALINK

Teach the controversy!

Posted by: smike on April 26, 2011 at 10:44 PM | PERMALINK

We need to borrow a page from the Karl Rove playbook, i.e. we create our own reality, and you (the media) can report it if you want, but we create the narrative. Only, in this case, we're not creating reality, it really is REAL reality! If the media, and the lazy, stupid citizenry of this country don't like it, fuck 'em.

Posted by: Patrick Star on April 26, 2011 at 10:50 PM | PERMALINK

You know, ex libra, Ryan's plan is actually available online. You can actually read what it says.

I suppose that one can make an argument that a premium support model works for working people and doesn't work for older retired people. But that isn't an argument that I see people on this blog making.

Instead I am seeing Benen and commenter after commenter pretend that Ryan has proposed a reform model that is fundamentally different than the ACA model. Has anyone actually READ Ryan's roadmap?

Make no mistake. I do not defend Ryan's plan. But my objections to Ryan's plan are pretty much the same as my objections to ACA: That single-payer is more administratively efficient, that there will be political pressure in Congress to water down the quality of plans in the exchanges, and that the subsidies will not be adequate, if not immediately then over time.

IF you want to make an intelligent argument distinguishing the ACA model from the Ryan/Medicare model then I am all ears. But ad hominem complaints that I sound like Boehner are not intelligent arguments.

Posted by: square1 on April 26, 2011 at 11:06 PM | PERMALINK

Can we finally agree on not calling these things 'entitlement' programs? Back in the day, we used to call them 'social' programs.

Josh Marshall alludes to this (perhaps unconsciously) when later in his piece he says: "One key factor is the establishment concept that cuts to entitlement programs (i.e., social insurance programs) are always the adult thing to do."

See! "Social insurance programs"! Was it that hard?

Posted by: leo on April 27, 2011 at 3:08 AM | PERMALINK

"Scare tactics" falls into the very same category with "class warfare." And at some level I think that true Ayn Rand believers like Paul Ryan are sincere when they are outraged that liberals would play the "class card" in order to attack GOP proposals to "save" Medicare by passing government's costs onto seniors and then take those "savings" and give them to wealthy investors in the form of more tax cuts.

Ideologues like Ryan have really convinced themselves that giving taxpayer money to "job creators" is good for everybody. They've completely put out of their mind the fact that most of that money goes to create jobs in China or India, benefitting a few investors in this country but no one else.

Since people like Ryan have a very two-dimensional view of the economy -- which is what you would expect from those who favor something called supply "side" economics -- they are naturally outraged by anyone who opposes benefits to their side, and are equally blind to their own class war they are waging while they accuse opponents of being class warriors instead.

Posted by: Ted Frier on April 27, 2011 at 6:43 AM | PERMALINK

Senate Republicans need to be on the record also. Call the vote and call their bluff. They know it is not going to be popular from what they saw over the break so it is time to divide and conquer.
For Texas politics: http://kennethdfranks.blogspot.com/

Posted by: Kenneth D. Franks on April 27, 2011 at 8:17 AM | PERMALINK

Fine....facts then.

The fact is that we do not have enough "rich" people to solve our federal fiscal problems. We spend too much. That over spending is driven primarily by growing social programs like Medicare and Social Security.

We could have changed our so-called 'social contract' decades ago to avoid our current fiscal problems. But that wisdom was ignored and the solutions were demagogued by the left.

Unfortunately, we have arrived at the point once described by Margaret Thatcher. "The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people's money."

That applies as much to mild bits of socialism as it does to the full blown raging socialism of Venezuela or Cuba.

So, folks on the left, we are out of money. Over spending is the problem.

Where do you want to make the deepest cuts? Will you gut our military and leave our nation defenseless? It won't solve the deficit problem.

Will you kill the EPA, Dept of Ed, NEA, NPR, Amtrak, foreign aid? Not even a drop in the bucket.

Come up with a real plan and we'll talk.

Posted by: Dann on April 27, 2011 at 9:05 AM | PERMALINK


We are not out of money. There is always enough to fight another war or bail out another bank. "We are out of money" is just a talking point invented by Paul Ryan and Fox News to justify gutting the social safety net in order to give rich people another 10% tax cut to invest in China. That is why Ryan's own deficit-cutting budget INCREASES the deficit for the next 20 years before it begins to reduce it.

Medicare does have problems, but those are really connected to the fact that we can't get medical costs under control -- something Republicans don't care about either because the health insurance industry pulls their strings.

The Republican plan for "saving" Medicare is to redefine it out of existance. Sure, it won't go bankrupt, but that is because it won't pay out any benefits either. So, just who exactly are Republicans "saving" Medicare for? Certainly not its elderly recipients who will get a coupon to buy private insurance of gradually diminishing value. All that will be left once Republicans are finished with Medicare is the hollow rhetorical shell of something called Medicare but isn't -- another brain-child (like the pro-pollution Clear Skies Initiative, or the tree-cutting Health Forests plan) of Republican evil word wizard Frank Luntz.

Even with all of this Paul Ryan's plan might have flown if he had confined it to cutting Medicare. But when he over-reached and threw in the tax cuts for the rich he showed his hand and lost all credibility with those middle class deficit hawks who might have been willing to swallow some of Ryan's bitter medicine. But he couldn't do that. He had to cut those taxcs again, because the GOP is the bought and paid for, wholly owned subsidiary, of the New American Oligarchy. And they want those tax cuts and won't settle for less.

Posted by: Ted Frier on April 27, 2011 at 9:55 AM | PERMALINK
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