The big news for the left last week was the special election victory of a Democrat in New York’s historically Republican-leaning 26th district. Amid all the pundits’ slicing and dicing of what happened to cause this surprising Democrat win, the main issue that the Democrats and their media minions trumpeted was Medicare—and how this defeat for the Republicans was really a referendum on Rep. Paul Ryan’s 10-year budget, in particular Medicare reform. Maybe misunderstanding of Ryan’s plan did have something to do with it. Whether it did or not, Republicans who care about re-election had better start acting like it did.
One of the first bold statements—or gaffes, depending on how you want to look at it—that Newt Gingrich made after announcing his run for the presidency, was to criticize Ryan’s plan using the term “right-wing engineering.” Of course, the media quickly jumped on this remark with great delight as illustrative of how bad Ryan’s plan must be, since one of his own party’s candidates “trashed” it.
Gingrich went on Sean Hannity’s program shortly afterward and explained his remark in the context of bringing the public along slowly to get their eventual buy-in, rather than rushing a drastic change through Congress without adequate explanation (Obamacare, anyone?). However, it’s also understandable that Ryan wanted to boldly put the specifics to paper rather than continue to argue in gross generalities that may never have gotten us anywhere. True enough, there are issues, such as welfare reform, that the public was in the mood for in the 1990’s, sufficiently so that even Democrat Bill Clinton signed the reform bill. But Medicare, unlike welfare, affects far more people, and whenever you talk about reducing benefits at some point, there is a lot of room for voters to misinterpret, and politicians to demagogue, the facts of your proposal. Such misinterpretation and demagoguery clearly can scare the you-know-what out of people. Especially seniors, many of whom live on fixed incomes. Was Ryan not sufficiently sensitive politically to this, and was that all Newt was trying to tell him, however ham-handedly? Too bad more of that discussion couldn’t have taken place in private instead of in the bright lights of the lamestream media.
However inadvertently, the Republicans have managed to put themselves on the defensive once again, a mere six months after their resounding victory last November. If they fail to turn this around by displaying some confidence in the Ryan plan and articulating it as a far better alternative than whatever the Democrats might offer, they could be looking at losing versus gaining ground in 2012.