The general line on the GOP defeat in the special election in NY-26 is that the Democrats successfully demagogued on Medicare. This seems to have lifted Democratic spirits and disheartened Republicans.
Actually, I don't think that the Democrats' Mediscare strategy will be all that effective. Sarah Palin has already shown how to demagogue it right back: "death panels".
The tactical situation on Medicare depends on the skills of individual politicians. The larger picture is quite simple.
On its current trajectory, Medicare is going to eat the federal budget and maybe the whole economy.You can see that in the CBO's Long Term Budget Outlook (Medicare is the red band):
So it's pretty clear what has to happen. Wealthier older Americans are going to have to pay more for their health care, and in return, hey should demand the right to structure it the way they want it. Poorer older Americans, people that won't or can't put up money of their own, are going to have to be rationed.
The Ryan Plan does that. The Obama Plan, hidden in ObamaCare with its Independent Payment Advicory Board or "death panel", is a health care rationing plan for all Americans.
There's a tantalizing piece from Daniel Foster on a meeting between former President Bill Clinton and Paul Ryan. Here's the money quote from Bill Clinton:
I think the Democrats are going to have to be willing to give up, maybe, some short-term political gain by whipping up fears on some of these things — if it’s a reasonable Social Security proposal, a reasonable Medicare proposal. We’ve got to deal with these things. You cannot have health care devour the economy.
Actually, I believe that the Democrats are never going to give up short-term political gain on Medicare. They are always going to argue that any cuts in any government program puts grannie out in the street. But the Republicans also have a line on demagoguery, and they can hammer home the line on unelected bureaucrats getting in between patients and doctors and rationing care.
I suspect that the nation will be making a grand political decision about all this next year. With a bad economy, inflation taking off, housing barely out of the doldrums, and entitlements all on the political agenda, we are going to get a memorable political year in 2012.
While the political professionals all seem to like the safe hands of Govs. Romney, Huntsman, and Pawlenty to lead the GOP charge, I still hanker for the political skills of Sarah Palin. Think of the US in Normandy: Palin as Gen. Patton and the other chaps as Gen. Bradley. Everyone seems to think Palin is crazy, but I think she is crazy like a fox.