So, the Republicans just put a loaded electoral shotgun in their mouth and gave the Democrats control of the trigger. All but four of them voted for Paul Ryan’s brave and Galtian voucherization of Medicare (note to all readers, given my experience with Russian “voucherization” of the 1990s I strongly suggest when somebody mentions that word you not only grab your wallet but punch them, hard, in the face). This is complete insanity from a political standpoint—to not simply grab the third rail of American politics but to unzip and pee right on it. The only large demographic bloc that votes consistently Republican, white over-65s, has just been told by a bunch of Ayn Rand acolytes (and really, doesn’t that sound like being governed by Scientologists?) to take their chances on the open insurance market. Said open market, as exemplified by “Medicare Advantage” (now there’s truth in advertising), has already told seniors to pay more for less service so the 15k voucher, excuse me “premimum support plan,” will be a down payment on an unfathomably large insurance bill for most people. There’s a lot of happy talk at the Koch Brother’s think tank about the advantages, but even they don’t consider the Ryan Plan as paying your premiums, like, you know, Medicare. Why not? ‘Cuz, you know the actuarial tables don’t exactly tell insurance companies 85 year-olds are a great investment. What these “free-market” Republicans seem to have forgotten is that Medicare was originally signed into law because no one would insure this demographic–and no act by the American state has been more effective in combating poverty. In fact, seniors went from the population group with the highest poverty rates outside of children to the lowest. Republicans cannot discern, or don’t care, that the “invisible hand” likes to give real human beings the finger.
On top of this idiocy they have “block-granted” Medicaid. Now while the patter would have the public believe that Medicaid is a gold-plated medical plan for welfare cheats, it is actually used mostly to pay for seniors in nursing homes and for disabled folks. To “block-grant” (governors always use block-grants to reward campaign contributors – why? Because they can.) Medicaid is to kill it and when Granny is put on the street it means, literally to kill her. She’ll be either warehoused in the sort of county poor houses that existed before the 1960s or thrust on families, who will have a grand time giving up Mom’s income to provide unpaid nursing. That’s what “privatization” means–the fat cats in the private insurance industry get the profits, you private persons get the costs. Alan Grayson was ridiculed for his description of the Republican health care plan: “Don’t get sick.” “If you do get sick, die quickly.” This is quite literally the Ryan plan for seniors.
Now some glibertarian sadist is going to come around here and say “We can’t afford this!” “Sacrifices have to be made!” But again, be wary, oh public. When these market fundamentalists come along and talk about sacrifices, they are being quite literal–let’s lead some millions of seniors to the altar of Mammon, the false idol they worship, and plunge the sacrifice knife into their heart’s blood. None consider the obvious cruelty of their plan and have the decorum to use a budget razor rather than a twisted bronze knife but whether the life blood oozes out on a stone altar or under a highway bridge, they’ve had their sacrifice.
What, am I being mean? Am I accusing one of the major parties in America of being made up of sadistic murderers who will prostitute themselves to dogma and industry money no matter the cost? Yes, of course I am. And I ain’t being “shrill” either. Because the Republican plan is not even a clever counterfeit–it claims to be about cutting the deficit but devotes almost all the savings from destroying American seniors with savage austerity to–wait for it–more massive tax cuts for the wealthy (while actually increasing tax rates, massively!, on the poor and middle class by excising major tax deductions from the tax code). There’s the tell, the knowing wink of the snake oil salesmen to their partners–all this carnage (and yes, it will be carnage–go check the decline in Russian life expectancy once the miserably inadequate socialized medical care system was shredded).
The hard thing to understand is whether or not our “brave and bold” Congressional functionaries for the Galtian Overlords actually thought the electorate would meekly accept these cuts. I think not–over-65s vote the way they do because of an “I got mine, bud, and I earned it! As for you, you’re a deadbeat, Kid” attitude (and given their resistance to guaranteeing children’s health care through SCHIP, I mean literally kid). They may be more racist, more anti-immigrant, and more “Christian” than the rest of the population but they are also more socialist, with the bulk of their lifestyle guaranteed by the state. Ryan and his comrades saw solid support for their party among white seniors and thought Fox News had indoctrinated them into a collective Atlas shrug. Nope, these guys just bought into the fear-mongering that a black president was going to give all their benies away to the gold-bricking brown people (how else do we understand a demographic that while permanently unemployed thanks to government paychecks views the pittance granted to unemployed workers from unemployment insurance–i.e., something you pay into–intolerable?). What? Does this mean I consider the Tea Party a bunch of greedy racist, codgers? Well, yeah, pretty much.
But this greed and selfishness actually works for the democrats for a change. Even before the vote, Charlie Cook had upgraded the Dems chances of taking back the house but now the new head of the DNC, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, must be licking her chops. Obama showed a rare glimpse of political acumen when he decided not to meet Ryan half-way and thereby destroy the Democratic brand for all time, but to lambaste the plan with Ryan in the room (by the way, the beltway Commentariat is channeling the Republican’s poutrage that the President committed an actual deed that benefited his base and party, rather than screwing both, which is the usual operative mode). I have pretty much thought that Michigan and Wisconsin, but also bloody Ohio and even Indiana, should be in the 2012 “blue” map due to their republican governors feral anti-unionism and contempt for teachers (ask Arnold how that worked out for him). But this act has delivered Florida to Obama even more effectively than
Lex Luther Gov. Scott could and nearly guaranteed Alan Grayson a second tenure in Congress (the ads write themselves–”I told you the Republicans want you to die. Now they just told you to!”). But the heavily senior states of Pennsylvania, the upper-Plains, and even Arizona are now in play. West Virginia’s intense racism might not even be enough to get its heavily senior electorate to the polls for such craptastic “reforms.” Plouffe could not have asked for a better gift (and reportedly had to tie Geithner, who was panting at delivering his constituency–Wall Street–all that money, to his chair and gag him to get it).
The mystifying thing about this vote is that the Republicans took back the house from blue dog Conservadems who were fiscal hawks and social conservatives on the basis of fear-mongering over Medicare. Rather than allowing congress critters with heavily senior districts to vote “nay” or “absent” geniuses like Boehner and Cantor herded these vulnerable tea partiers into the electoral abattoir. These guys are going to get slaughtered in 2012. Their vote is as profoundly stupid as the Dems voting against the public option in 2010.
All I can think is that the Conservative movement in this country is so arrogant after Citizens United that they think their money advantage can force any type of shock therapy through. But they forget that Yeltsin and Pinochet used tanks to force “privatization” (i.e., pauperization and crony capitalism) on unwilling populations. Electoral fraud helps, too. I doubt the 101st is going to turn FedEx Field into Gitmo north just to usher in the new free market paradise. A second explanation is that they consider the Dems so politically inept that even when handed a loaded electoral gun, they simply shoot themselves in the ass. This may be the real wisdom in the proposal–that they could lock in massive changes to the American social contract (a la Ireland) and not face the electoral massacre of the Irish conservatives due to their opponents’ wish to be “bipartisan” and “serious.” I have to say, as a life-long Dem I consider that a risky bet but one a high-roller might consider.
We’ll see. A third “wave election” in the last four cycles may be on its way, but only if the Dems hammer the Republicans for the cruelty and contempt of their budget. It is profoundly immoral and that is the way it should be framed. The Republicans are not simply mistaken, they are pernicious. As for Ryan’s act itself, to paraphrase Talleyrand, “It was worse than a crime, it was a mistake.” Well, for the Republican Party, at any rate. Here’s hoping the Dems realize this rather obvious point.
*For our non-American readers who consider such politics a bore, think of it as coming attractions. Or, in many countries (Greece, the UK, Ireland, Portugal), as recent history. The lords of finance have decided social welfare schemes cut into profits. Unless I misunderstand the man, I see Harper in Canada as very much a stealth version of Paul Ryan. So, sorry for the long parochial post but I do think this has applicability well outside of US domestic politics.