THE PLANK DECEMBER 9, 2009
At fivethirtyeight.com, Professor Tom Schaller offers an interesting explanation of the recent obsession of Republicans with resisting any second look at health care costs for seniors. It's just a matter of identity politics, he says:
Republicans point at Democrats in Congress and the White House and charge that they and they health care reform plans must be stopped because (a) they are going to cut seniors’ Medicare; and (b) they are going to institute “death panels” to pull the plug on seniors.
In other words, although the end-of-life use of Medicare is a government problem that violates almost every philosophy they espouse about the proper role of government—public sector over private; easily exploited by, rather than protected from, trial lawyers; a moral hazard, consequence-free billing system as opposed to rational, need-based spending; a program with rising outlays as opposed to slow or zero growth outlays—Medicare is instead the very program they are rallying behind.
And why? For votes—specifically the votes of those angry, mostly-white seniors upon whom they are betting their electoral fortunes in 2010 and beyond. In short, the GOP has now become so wedded to its dying, white majority that it is willing to sacrifice not only good public policy and smart long-term budgeting, but its very own core principles.
That may be largely true. But there's another reason for the conservative focus on end-of-life care: the threat of euthanasia has long been a major talking point for the Right to Life movement, which in today's shrunken GOP continues to play an outsized role. The argument, such as it is, suggests that the contempt for human life reflected in legalized abortion will eventually lead liberals to begin croaking the elderly on grounds that they are as inconvenient as fetuses. That's why the late Terri Schiavo became such a cause celebre for anti-abortionists. And that's why it was no accident that the whole "death panel" smear of health care reform was first given wings by the queen of the RTL movement these days, Sarah Palin.
This observation reinforces Schaller's broader point that the GOP's message is being dictated by its constituencies. Anything that simultaneously thrills the Culture War Right while frightening white seniors looks like electoral gold to today's Republicans.
Ed Kilgore is Managing Editor at The Democratic Strategist and a Senior Fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute.