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May 24, 2011 10:45 AM At the intersection of candor, callousness, and conservatism

By Steve Benen

When President Obama criticizes the Republican plan to end Medicare, he has some pretty standard rhetoric.

“It’s a vision that says America can’t afford to keep the promise we’ve made to care for our seniors,” Obama has said more than once. “It says that 10 years from now, if you’re a 65-year-old who’s eligible for Medicare, you should have to pay nearly $6,400 more than you would today. It says instead of guaranteed health care, you will get a voucher. And if that voucher isn’t worth enough to buy the insurance that’s available in the open marketplace, well, tough luck — you’re on your own.”

What’s interesting, though, is when congressional Republican effectively respond, “Damn straight.”

In general, GOP officials like to keep up a certain pretense. They’re not “ending” Medicare; they’re “saving” Medicare. They don’t want to screw over the elderly; they want to give seniors “choices.”

It’s so much more refreshing when Republicans just say what they believe.

Rep. Rob Woodall, a Georgia Republican, made a vigorous ideological defense of ending Medicare as it currently exists, telling seniors at a local town hall that they ought not look to the government to provide health care for the elderly just because their private employer doesn’t offer health benefits for retirees.

A Woodall constituent raised a practical obstacle to obtaining coverage in the private market within the confines of an employer-based health insurance system: What happens when you retire?

“The private corporation that I retired from does not give medical benefits to retirees,” the woman told the congressman in video captured a local Patch reporter in Dacula, Ga.

“Hear yourself, ma’am. Hear yourself,” Woodall told the woman. “You want the government to take care of you, because your employer decided not to take care of you. My question is, ‘When do I decide I’m going to take care of me?’”

At the same event, when another constituent suggested the voucher may be inadequate in covering growing health care costs, Woodall suggested she leave the United States to go to one of the other industrialized countries that offer coverage for everyone.

This is important rhetoric. Woodall is obviously something of an extremist, but at least he’s presenting the Republican agenda in stark, cold terms. His remarks come at the intersection of candor, callousness, and conservatism — seniors who worked for companies that don’t offer benefits to retirees are out of luck. If they didn’t save enough to cover their own medical bills, they’ll just have to suffer or go to some other country.

The last thing Woodall wants to do is “save” Medicare. He prefers a system in which Medicare doesn’t exist and seniors fend for themselves.

I congratulate the right-wing congressman for being so straightforward in his presentation of the Republican agenda, and can only hope others in the GOP are as truthful and candid in their own rhetoric. Americans deserve a real debate about competing visions of the future, and Rob Woodall, as ridiculously conservative as he is, has presented an agenda the public deserves to consider.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.

Comments

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  • charliem90 on May 24, 2011 10:51 AM:


    This guy is my congressman.

    He's able to say it in such black and white terms because he's in a district that is overwhelmingly (80%?) republican. And knows most of his constituents will pull that "R" marked lever in the next election without thinking.

  • Daddy Love on May 24, 2011 10:53 AM:

    Don't get sick, and if you do, die quickly.

  • c u n d gulag on May 24, 2011 10:53 AM:

    "...Woodall suggested she leave the United States to go to one of the other industrialized countries that offer coverage for everyone."

    Nice!
    So, since your own country doesn't give a shit about you because you'll cost it money, go rack up the debt of some other country that might not like to see sick old people die, even if they're not from there.

    In a just universe, he would have been struck by lightning, or been the only one carried away by a sudden tornado and dashed to his death against a roadside billboard put up for his campaign.

    And people VOTE for people like that?
    How fucking stuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuupid do you have to be to vote for an asshole like this?


  • SaintZak on May 24, 2011 10:55 AM:

    It's also worth noting that Woodall received enthusiastic applause from many...although there weren't many, in attendance.

  • Frank on May 24, 2011 10:56 AM:

    Steve, I completely agree with your comments. But, they didn't go on to point out that Mr Woodall is never going to give up his gold plated health insurance and retirement that is be paid for by you and I. It just once again points out the utter hypocrisy of these clowns. And sadder, it shows just how dumb people are that they voted for these charlatans.

  • dalloway on May 24, 2011 10:59 AM:

    What would this asshat be saying if he had to pay for his OWN medical care -- which, as a member of Congress, he'll never have to. Go ahead, moron. Tell me how you're going to pay for dialysis or a liver transplant on a salary about five times what the average American makes. You can't do it. Nobody can. Single payer, non-profit health care. That's the only solution, the one Republicans never mention because their masters in the for-profit health care sector, the vampires bankrupting America, won't let them.

  • Bobsled on May 24, 2011 10:59 AM:

    Exactly. His employer offers a retirement package that includes health care coverage. I guess another option would to run for Congress.

  • Stetson Kennedy on May 24, 2011 11:01 AM:

    She wants the government to take care of her??? No, she doesn't, she wants the benefits she's paid her whole life to get!

    That's what dems need to push. This isn't government playing the patriarch role, this is government holding up its end of the bargain.

  • Roddy McCorley on May 24, 2011 11:03 AM:

    Of course, it would never occur to this idiot that government IS one of the ways "I take care of me."

    Pave yer own fucking roads, ya hippie!

  • Varecia on May 24, 2011 11:08 AM:

    They could just say, "When it comes to the elderly and the disabled, we're more heartless than the Neanderthals!"
    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/evolution/humans/humankind/n.html

  • nycweboy on May 24, 2011 11:22 AM:

    I agree with the "do as I say, not as I do" analyses of Woodall's own health coverage... but I think what some see as callous and cold is also a point Democrats tend to ignore in why the Republican message has appeal: Americans do find a certain appeal in the rhetoric of "personal responsibility" and ending "dependency". I think Medicare is vital and necessary, but there is a point to be considered about expectations of being taken care of - lifetime pensions, endless retirement benefits, life on government welfare for years and years... there are unreasonable expectations, and there is something to not encouraging long term dependency or creating too much expectation.

    Again, the reason we won't end Medicare is both because it's popular and because the Ryan alternative is what we've already tried: private insurers have no interest in insuring the sickest, oldest patients in a for-profit system. But liberals do need to figure out, soon, what to do about the reality that the costs of operating Medicaid and Medicare in an expansive way - creating and perpetuating a kind of dependency - are simply unsustainable in the current structure. I'm a liberal because I think government does have a responsibility to help people in need. At the same time, I think liberals would be well served to think harder about how we define "need."

    Also, I think it's a mistake to assume that Woodall, or anyone else, is imply unbeatable, or in a purely "safe" district. I'm convinced that voters can, when presented with a real choice, often be persuaded to make a change. To beat a Woodall, though, Democrats need to face the hard parts of his personal responsibility argument, not the easy ones.

  • mim on May 24, 2011 11:24 AM:

    To quote the great Tom Paxton:

    I learned the Republicans have a plan
    For insuring every woman and man;
    It will cost much less, I can tell you why:
    'Cause when you're sick, you die die die.

  • jcb on May 24, 2011 11:24 AM:

    There was a little bit of intellectual dishonesty going on when the congressman said, You want the government to take care of you, because your employer decided not to take care of you.

    As I (generally) remember it, the Congressman's own GOP promotes de-regulation, the self-same de-regulation that allows her employer to disown her.

  • Varecia on May 24, 2011 11:29 AM:

    From my earlier link--Jon Stewart or someone really needs to use this:

    Shanidar 1: "This site has yielded nine Neanderthal skeletons. One of them, Shanidar 1, was partially blind, one-armed, and crippled when he died, suggesting that he was a member of a society that cared for its elderly..."
    Old Man: "This individual, who was 30 to 40 years old when he died, had a healed broken rib, severe arthritis of the hip, lower neck, back, and shoulders, and had lost most of his molar teeth. This indicates that Neanderthals may have had a complex social system that included care for the elderly."

  • kanopsis on May 24, 2011 11:30 AM:

    He prefers a system in which Medicare doesnt exist and seniors fend for themselves.

    Do these effing morons not understand that they themselves are gonna get old someday, and they'll be facing these same questions? Senators and Congressmen MAY have insurance in retirement, but it will be insurance the government provides. Just like he has now. What about his family though.. What complete effing morons.

  • jhill on May 24, 2011 11:30 AM:

    Has anyone looked into Canadian immigration policy? Somehow I don't think they'd be too thrilled about a sudden flood of 65-year-old Yanks into their health care system.

  • Danny on May 24, 2011 11:30 AM:

    Libertarian Pundit Andrew Sullivan jumps ship:


    I've been wrestling with this for a while now.

    I've come to agree with Gingrich that just ending the entitlement, after grandfathering in the entire boomer money-suck, is indeed too drastic an attack on an institution that has become welded to the public's understanding of their lives. That's called conservatism.

    [...]

    The demagoguing by the Democrats is predictable, sad, but also so powerful it's hard to see how any party could practically resist it.

    It's rich that after initially jumping on the bandwagon, praising Ryan's "brave" and "responsible" plan, now when the jig is up he pretty much admits that what it was all about was "ending the entitlement" and attacking the institution of medicare for ideological reasons. Just what you would expect from a libertarian.

    Oh what mean, mean demagoguing democrats, telling seniors the truth about the libertarian plan to k-ll off medicare in order to do Ayn Rands bidding.


    http://andrewsullivan.thedailybeast.com/2011/05/people-in-my-district-like-medicare.html

  • Walker on May 24, 2011 11:34 AM:

    @Danny,

    Andew Sullivan is not liberal. He has never been, and has never claimed to be. Liberals liked him only because he was an anti-torture conservative.

  • Joe Friday on May 24, 2011 11:36 AM:

    "Hear yourself, ma'am. Hear yourself," Woodall told the woman. "You want the government to take care of you, because your employer decided not to take care of you. My question is, 'When do I decide I'm going to take care of me?'"

    Oh please, get this guy on the TeeVee !

  • emjayay on May 24, 2011 11:40 AM:

    I don't believe that federal employment includes any health care benefits after you retire. People may be confusing federal civil service employment with military, which does include access to VA healthcare for all former military, and maybe access to regular military base healthcare for retirees. (Anyone know?)

    Any stint in the military also gives you extra points on federal civilian employment, and the rules were recently changed to guarantee that in many instances ONLY former military people will be hired for federal civil service positions.

  • Josef K on May 24, 2011 11:41 AM:

    This was for real, right? It wasn't a put on or some skit for SNL?

    I only ask because its hard to believe a Congressman would be willing to speak with such candor. Its refreshing, but hard to credit.

  • Josef K on May 24, 2011 11:45 AM:

    And why do I get the sense that many in attendance weren't making the connection that this would affect *them* as much as anyone else? Surely it occurred to them they wouldn't be exempt, right?

  • mim on May 24, 2011 11:46 AM:

    Andrew Sullivan is a true conservative, the kind that still lives in the real world. He's liberal by the standard of today's Republicans.

  • rob on May 24, 2011 11:47 AM:

    Before we cannonize "Rob" for his honesty as a frank far right wing nasty 'everybody for his/herselfer', let's dwell for a moment on his utter hypocrisy: this SOB has never earned a living other than as a government employee. That's correct, the people of Gwinett County, Ga. have been carrying this blood sucking leech for his entire adult life and all of that 'government service' has been on the political side, no military, no work for the Ameri Corps. Now, I don't think working for the people is a bad thing at all, it's a good thing (just not the way he has done it) but, for God's sake boy, you don't get to live large off the fat of the people and then tell others that mutual support through government programs adopted by the duly constituted government is the devil's work. That's just Bull Shit Rob.

  • Trollop on May 24, 2011 12:00 PM:

    Obviously we need to eliminate Medicare to pay for no-bid oil and construction contractors and contract armed mercenaries! He forgot to mention Defense and 9/11! That always gets the cheering started!

  • toowearyforoutrage on May 24, 2011 12:15 PM:

    Go to another country to get health care when your own won't provide it...

    I'm curious...

    Is Woodall one of the people who complains about illegal immigrants being a taxpayer drain yet utterly fails to recognize irony?

    Just what country should serve retirees that haven't paid a dime into the coffers for their entire working lives, Mr. Congressman? Which reviled Socialist nation are you calling upon to accept / save your constituents' sorry butts?

  • DZ on May 24, 2011 12:19 PM:

    And if we had a functioning Democratic Party, comments from this event would be in campaign ads until election day 2012. Or was this one of those events where the GOPer banned recording devices?

  • Danny on May 24, 2011 12:20 PM:

    @Walker, @Mim

    I know Sullivan's no Liberal, and he's no Conservative either. He's a raging Libertarian - like the Ayn Rand toting Ron Paul supporters - and that is what I wrote.

    The point I was trying to make was that at first Sullivan tried to pose as a Village moderate - supporting the Ryan plan because it was "brave" and "serious". Now that the jig is up he forgets about pretense and admits that he got on board with terminating medicare because the secret Galtian plan of Libertarian revolution mandates it.

    The formatting got bungled though so I'll post it again.

    Sullivan:

    I've been wrestling with this for a while now.

    I've come to agree with Gingrich that just ending the entitlement, after grandfathering in the entire boomer money-suck, is indeed too drastic an attack on an institution that has become welded to the public's understanding of their lives. That's called conservatism.

    [...]

    The demagoguing by the Democrats is predictable, sad, but also so powerful it's hard to see how any party could practically resist it.

    It's rich that after initially jumping on the bandwagon, praising Ryan's "brave" and "responsible" plan, now when the jig is up he pretty much admits that what it was all about was "ending the entitlement" and attacking the institution of medicare for ideological reasons. Just what you would expect from a libertarian.

    Oh what mean, mean demagoguing democrats, telling seniors the truth about the libertarian plan to k-ll off medicare in order to do Ayn Rands bidding.

  • Sasha on May 24, 2011 12:42 PM:

    I'm curious: What kind of steps is Rep. Woodall himself taking to secure his later years?

  • ElsieJean on May 24, 2011 1:02 PM:

    Does Rep. Woodall accept Government healthcare coverage for himself and his family?

  • chi res on May 24, 2011 1:06 PM:

    nycweboy: At the same time, I think liberals would be well served to think harder about how we define "need."

    Here's how I define "not needed" for the doctors, lawyers, insurance execs and others who are responsible for incredibly high health care costs: Golfing, Boating, Alimony.

  • consiberal on May 24, 2011 1:08 PM:

    I'm surprised no one has mentioned that I expect the government to provide health care because I've been paying a Medicare payroll tax for years with the promise of coverage when I retire.

    Reform it don't kill it.

  • DRF on May 24, 2011 1:24 PM:

    Stetson Kennedy is right--the government isn't "taking care of you" in offering Medicare coverage. We pay taxes in return for benefits such as this. Similarly, one's employer was not "taking care of you" during employment; employer-provided health insurance is part of the compensation package for employees. The employee provides his or her labor in return for salary and benefits.

    Woodall seems to be too ignorant and thoughtless to understand that the people he obviously views as free-loaders are actually hard-working taxpayers. Sure, there are some people on Medicare who contributed very little by way of taxes to the system, but that's part of the social compact--we're supposed to take care of the poor and the elderly who can't afford to pay for their own health insurance.

  • James Conner on May 24, 2011 1:26 PM:

    This debate is about more than programs like Medicare and Social Security: it's about social insurance, which in turn is about what obligations members of a society have to one another, and what is in a society's enlightened self-interest. The Republicans now in office do not believe in social insurance and are hellbent on turning back the clock to 1928.

    Democrats still cannot bring themselves to believe that, and thus, trying to appear reasonable and moderate, are failing to frame the issue in the stark and near apocalyptic terms in which it should be framed.

  • Marcelle Guilbeau on May 24, 2011 1:35 PM:

    The problem, which I wish more in the media would say, is not that people want to pay, or don't want to pay, not what they can afford or not. It is that what is available, for an affordable rate, is not available to all. It is only available to those who work for big companies (or government) that offer group rates. The government only has to regulate this marketplace, in order for those affordable rates to be affordable to all. This is not "welfare". The GOP packages it as "welfare" and the Dems accept the package, and go on the defensive. This is a big problem, and we're losing ground on it.

  • Mnemosyne on May 24, 2011 1:40 PM:

    I think Medicare is vital and necessary, but there is a point to be considered about expectations of being taken care of - lifetime pensions, endless retirement benefits, life on government welfare for years and years... there are unreasonable expectations, and there is something to not encouraging long term dependency or creating too much expectation.

    As Stetson Kennedy, consiliberal, and DRF all mentioned, this "government welfare" is something WE have been paying in to. Everyone who gets a paycheck pays into these system.

    Are you saying that the government should be allowed to come along and take our money that we have contributed towards our own retirement? Why do you think the government should be allowed to steal our money?

  • Zorro on May 24, 2011 1:54 PM:

    Perfect summary of right-wing governance: you're on your own. YOYO, for short.

    -Z

  • Marko on May 24, 2011 1:58 PM:

    And to continue what Mnemosyene et al are saying, we have been paying into the system for years with payroll taxes and we expect to be taken care of when our time comes. If the system is "broken" (not enough funds to cover costs), then raise the goddamn taxes for chrissake.

  • Mnemosyne on May 24, 2011 2:11 PM:

    I think that what's really been lost through this Republican/Libertarian mania for tax cutting is that we pay taxes in order to get stuff. We pay local taxes so our roads can be repaired and we can get police and fire protection when we need it. We pay state taxes so highways can be repaired and government offices that we need (like, say, the DMV) can operate. We pay federal taxes so we can have programs like Social Security and Medicare and not have to worry about living on cat food when we retire.

    Somehow, Republicans have convinced people that their money is being given to undeserving people and isn't being used for the programs that people like and depend on.

    The irony, of course, is that our money is being given to undeserving people, but those people are hedge fund managers and banksters, not the proverbial "welfare queen." So I guess the Republicans are telling the truth in one sense -- they are taking our money and giving it to the undeserving.

  • neil b on May 24, 2011 2:13 PM:

    Woodall the objectivist thug is missing the whole context, that medical expenses are a variable, have much unpredictability, cost go up and it isn't rationally a practical matter like basic self-support.

    BTW the objecticons are also wrong about choice, because just having options per se is banal: the real choice is, what the menu will have on it.

    BTW was that really a ` in my decaptcha - well it's better than Greek letters, Cyrillic or whatever crap I see once in awhile ... Eventually those bastards will get sued under ADA ...

  • beejeez on May 24, 2011 2:18 PM:

    Hear yourself, maam. Hear yourself. You want the government to put out the fire burning your house down. My question is, When do I decide Im going to put out the fire by myself'?

  • kc on May 24, 2011 2:23 PM:

    Telling your constituents to leave the country doesn't seem like a great re-election plan. But then again, it IS Georgia . . .

  • citizen_pain on May 24, 2011 2:43 PM:

    Move to another country? Um, no...
    My response:
    "I beg your pardon sir? Did you just say that I need to move to another country if I do not have health care because it's not the government's problem? May I remind you sir that in a civilized, 21st century society we simply do not let people die in the streets because they do not have access to basic medical care. May I also remind you sir this battle has been fought and for 70 years, for several generations, Americans have resoundingly supported a social safety net.
    Is this what this country has become? A dog eat dog, you're on your own society? Is this what countless Americans have fought and died for over the centuries? I say to you sir, no, it is not. You sir do not represent the majority of America. You sir represent a spoiled, selfish, privileged class who seeks to enrich themselves at the expense of the rest of us who work hard for what we have, who were not born with silver spoons and endowments and trust funds. You sir represent the antithesis of the American ideal. You and your class represent the very forces we as a young country rebelled against, the English monarchy.
    So I say to you sir that it is you that needs to leave the country, not I. If you do not want to pay your fair share in taxes, if you do not want a government to impede your lust for power and profit, then may I suggest you relocate to , let's say Somalia, and I will be glad to fund your 1 way ticket."

  • Sam on May 24, 2011 2:51 PM:

    I love how he says that his constituent wants the government to "give" her health care. Completely oblivious to the fact that she has paid into the system her entire working life.

  • David S on May 24, 2011 8:29 PM:

    �Hear yourself, ma�am. Hear yourself,� Woodall told the woman. �You want the government to take care of you, because your employer decided not to take care of you. My question is, �When do I decide I�m going to take care of me?��

    I think everyone is missing the point. When is someone going to fill in Rep. Woodall he supports the President's health care program. Isn't "�When do I decide I�m going to take care of me?�� basically a mandate?

  • David S on May 24, 2011 8:30 PM:

    "Hear yourself, ma'am. Hear yourself," Woodall told the woman. "You want the government to take care of you, because your employer decided not to take care of you. My question is, "When do I decide I'm going to take care of me?"

    I think everyone is missing the point. When is someone going to fill in Rep. Woodall he supports the President's health care program. Isn't "When do I decide I'm going to take care of me?" basically a mandate?

  • Anonymous on May 24, 2011 9:07 PM:

    How fucking stuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuupid do you have to be to vote for an asshole like this?
    Remember this is Georgia we are talking about

  • Don on May 26, 2011 10:21 AM:

    Hey, Anonymous. Don't be an asshat like Woodall. I will agree you have to be stupid to vote for Woodall(R,Georgia). I'll remind you, you also have to be pretty stupid to continue to re-elect the likes of Michelle Bachman(R,Minnesota), Peter King(R,New York) and of course the wonderful Paul Ryan(R,Wisconsin).
    I'm from Georgia and I feel it's a shame that we have the likes of Woodall to represent Georgians.
    But, for the record, all of us do not vote for asslicks like him.

  • Chuck on October 22, 2011 12:55 PM:

    Chuck 10/22/2011

    Woodall Shows us all just how broken the system is. The old term "throw the bums out is the only answer! We need to start over people. The republicans are just as much to blame as the Demorates.

  • Chuck on October 22, 2011 12:59 PM:

    Writer Chuck 10/22/2011

    Woodall Shows us all just how broken the system is. The old term "throw the bums out" is the only answer! We need to start over people. The republicans are just as much to blame as the Demorates.

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