Ezra Klein, annoying liberal-wunderkind of the Washington Post, poses a good question in his column this morning, one that Conservatives should already have been asking themselves (I have, have you?) and one for which Conservatives better have a good answer--certainly better than the answers that Klein puts forward to his own question.
Why are seniors--those most THOROUGHLY INVESTED IN GOVERNMENT RUN HEALTH CARE, so heavily against....government run health care? Let's face it--medicare is essentially socialized medicine, so this is really an inconvenient question for Conservatives to answer. Klein basically says its because Republican spin-meisters have so effectively brainwashed seniors into thinking that the "savings" to be wrung from Medicare to pay for a public option, will create diminished service to them. Klein blithely dismisses this fear, basically saying the savings are going to come from better and more efficient operations, not service cuts.
A couple of things.
1. Seniors don't view Medicare as socialized medicine. They see it--like they see their social security checks--as something they "earned" by paying into the system for so long. Though this is a clear misperception of the facts (one's social security benefit at least has SOME tenuous connection to what one pays in during a working life), that's how they see it.
2. The fear that they see is at least partly attributable to the sense that Medicare is already running on the ragged edge, and that spreading this model across the population would create changes--real, negative changes--to the level of care they get now. This is a rational fear, one that can't be dismissed as blithely as Klein tries.
3. Medicare, at a very understandable level of abstraction, appeals to many in this country from a compassionate and humanitarian perspective. These people look at our great and wealthy country and think a measure of its greatness is how it takes care of its old and sick. This is--incidentally--the perspective from which I come. I do believe the federal government has a role to play--a major role--in the provision of healthcare to its most vulnerable citizens (yes, citizens). In many cases, the most vulnerable--those with the least means and the most problems--are our elderly. But these same people don't necessarily believe that a measure of national greatness is how well a government provides healthcare to those with the means to provide it for themselves. Many who feel this way are seniors--seniors who see no problem in participating in Medicare (see above, Medicare as earned right) and nationalized health care (see Canada, Britain, etc). By the way, it is interesting to see that the REAL third rail of American politics--means testing for medicare--hasn't popped its head up here. I'd support ANY politician with the stones to bring this one up.
At the end of the day, there is some inconsistency in the opposition of older Americans to nationalized health care--when viewed from the Ezra Klein perspective. When viewed from a senior's perspective, it isn't so clear.
Politically, Conservatives need to make the distinctions between taking care of our most vulnerable--a government function--and the provision of routine life-long healthcare--not a government function. Along the way, I'd love to see the cost of medicare reduced NOT by reducing services but by denying them altogether to seniors who can afford it. But that's a fight for another day.....
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