All without the slightest hint of how that supposed reform or strengthening would take place, regarding that program and many others. “We will not duck the tough issues; we will lead,” said Representative Paul Ryan, in his speech accepting the vice-presidential nomination. “We will not spend four years blaming others; we will take responsibility.”
Sounds great, except that the speech ducked the tough issues and blamed others for the problems.
Mr. Ryan, who rose to prominence on the Republican barricades with a plan to turn Medicare into a voucher system, never uttered the word “voucher” to the convention. He said Medicare was there for his grandmother and mother, but neglected to say that he considers it too generous to be there in the same form for future grandmothers (while firmly opposing the higher taxes on the rich that could keep it strong). He never mentioned his plan to abandon Medicaid on the doorstep of the states, or that his budget wouldn’t come close to a balance for 28 years.
The reasons for that are clear: Details are a turn-off, at a boisterous convention or apparently in a full campaign. A New York Times poll last week showed that the Medicare plan advocated by Mr. Ryan and Mitt Romney was highly unpopular in the swing states of Florida, Ohio and Wisconsin. As soon as voters find out that the Republicans plan to offer retirees a fixed amount, they disapprove, clearly preferring the existing system.
The Romney campaign knows this, of course, so it has developed a counterstrategy that was fully on display at the convention for those who might have missed it on the trail: Don’t change the plans, but don’t talk about them, either. Instead, invent a phony attack on President Obama’s policies, which are public in full detail, and hope that voters get so confused that they throw up their hands and cast their vote on some other issue or on emotion.
The tactic was on display on Wednesday when Senator Marco Rubio of Florida solemnly told CBS News that Medicare will have to look different for a new generation. “Anyone who’s in favor of leaving it the way it is now is in favor of bankrupting it,” he said. Yet Mr. Ryan tried to frighten beneficiaries that evening by denouncing Mr. Obama for cutting $716 billion out of Medicare to pay for health care reform.
He didn’t say that the money would come out of hospitals and insurance companies, not benefits, and that he proposed exactly the same cut. He didn’t say that reform provides popular benefits to retirees, like the end of the prescription doughnut hole and improved preventive care. But the effect is clear: voters say in surveys that while they don’t like a Medicare voucher program, they don’t necessarily associate that with the Romney/Ryan ticket and are no less angry with Mr. Obama for his Medicare cuts. So far, the Democratic critique of Mr. Ryan’s plans has not substantially changed a very close race.
Mr. Ryan said he wouldn’t blame others, but the message was lost at a convention where the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, tore into Mr. Obama for spending too much time on his golf game and discussing his food preferences.
Did Mr. McConnell realize others were listening when he said that the country doesn’t know how the president would deal with the coming expiration of the Bush tax cuts? Mr. Obama has been explicitly clear about his plans: preserve the cuts for the middle class but not for the rich. Not mentioning that fact, and pretending that there is some doubt about it, is central to the Republican Party strategy of inventing an alternate reality.
Republicans also aren’t mentioning that their proposal to eliminate federal control of the Medicaid program for the poor would not only damage the health care of millions of struggling Americans but would also affect middle-class families who have relied on the program to pay for nursing home care.
The Romney/Ryan plan would eliminate the protection that keeps a married couple from impoverishing itself to qualify for nursing home coverage.
The party platform mentions a few Medicaid details, but not a word of the real plan has been uttered at the convention microphone. The best way to duck the tough issues, apparently, is simply to claim very loudly that you are doing the opposite.
New York Times editorial, August 29, 2012