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Joey, We Should Have Known Ye

From the Scrapbook

Aug 27, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 46 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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As for The Scrapbook’s third observation, it takes the form of a question: What were Harvard—and Oberlin and Bates and Brown and Johns Hopkins and the University of Miami—thinking when they conferred honorary degrees on Fareed Zakaria? 

Profiles in Ducking and Covering

Last December, Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, coauthored a Medicare reform plan with none other than Paul Ryan. (Yes, the one you saw on TV throwing Grandma off a cliff.) Entitled “Guaranteed Choices to Strengthen Medicare and Health Security for All,” the proposal called for Medicare to transition to a premium-support system, whereby seniors would receive a government subsidy with which they would purchase private health insurance. Enrolling in traditional Medicare would also remain an option. In other words, Wyden basically signed on to what is known as the Ryan plan. 

When Wyden and Ryan released their proposal, the left was enraged. Democratic representative Pete Stark of California warned that the plan “ends Medicare as know it, plain and simple.” Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio said that the plan amounted to putting “lipstick on a pig.” The New York Times’s Paul Krugman, channeling Lenin as usual, labeled Wyden a “useful idiot.”

But Wyden, to his credit, was undeterred. “This doesn’t end Medicare as we know it,” he averred in a joint interview with Ryan. In fact, he went on to say, premium support offers a way for “progressives and conservatives to come together.” The plan, he said, is “a model driven by choices and competition. .  .  . We believe it’s going to work.” In a later Huffington Post op-ed, Wyden further defended what he then called “Wyden-Ryan,” saying that it was the best way to “preserve the Medicare guarantee.”

So last weekend, when Mitt Romney selected Paul Ryan as his running mate (and even name-checked Wyden in his speech introducing Ryan), Ron Wyden was confronted with a choice. Would he stand steady, a veritable Stonewall Wyden, admirably defending premium support in the face of partisan scare-mongering? Or would he reduce himself to being just another partisan, standing by as his party trashes a policy that he knows is meritorious? The choice was made even starker when it became clear that the Democrats would put the Ryan Plan at the center of their campaign against Romney.

So what did Wyden do? Cue the tape: “Governor Romney needs to learn you don’t protect seniors by making things up, and his comments sure won’t help promote real bipartisanship,” Wyden said in a statement full of similarly meaningless bromides. 

It seems that Romney slipped up and referred to Wyden-Ryan as a piece of “legislation,” and not as a “proposal,” or “plan,” which are Wyden’s preferred terms. And, yes, it was hemming and hawing about this minimal semantic distinction that made up essentially the entirety of Wyden’s response. As for the benefits of premium support—and the false attacks on the the model coming from the Democrats—it’s been radio silence from Oregon’s senior senator.

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