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Hands Off My Medicare

2:39 PM, Aug 17, 2009 • By MATTHEW CONTINETTI
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The primary Democratic response to criticism of ObamaCare has been to attack the motives, intelligence, and good faith of the people making the criticism. One of the most common tactics is to highlight those instances when a voter seemingly betrays his or her ignorance of the fact that Medicare is a government program. Here's Obama on July 28:

And I got a letter the other day from a woman; she said, I don't want government-run health care, I don't want socialized medicine, and don't touch my Medicare. [Laughter.] And I wanted to say, well, I mean, that's what Medicare is, is it's a government-run health care plan that people are very happy with. But I think that we've been so accustomed to hearing those phrases that sometimes we can't sort out the myth from the reality.

Here's GOP Rep. Robert Inglis of South Carolina in the Washington Post that same day:

The reaction to Democratic proposals has been strong, too. At a recent town-hall meeting in suburban Simpsonville, a man stood up and told Rep. Robert Inglis (R-S.C.) to 'keep your government hands off my Medicare.'

'I had to politely explain that, "Actually, sir, your health care is being provided by the government,"' Inglis recalled. 'But he wasn't having any of it.'

And so it goes. Paul Krugman: "Medicare is highly popular, as evidenced by the tendency of town-hall protesters to demand that the government keep its hands off the program."

As Bill Kristol noted when Obama first brought up his correspondent's letter, "This may once have really happened, but it's been recycled endlessly in recent years as a liberal talking point about the ignorance of the American people and their silliness in resisting new big government health care schemes." We first started hearing these stories during the fight over Clinton's health care bill in 1993.

It's certainly true that plenty of Americans know things that are not so - 53 percent of the electorate voted for Obama, after all - and that many of them may believe incorrectly that Medicare is not a government program.

But is it actually that silly to tell your elected representatives to "keep their government hands off" Medicare? Precisely because Medicare is a government program, it is subject solely to the "hands" of politicians, who can wreak a lot of havoc - by cutting benefits or not covering certain treatments, say - as well as do good (occasionally). When people make this argument - and they probably don't make it as often as is commonly accepted - they really are saying that they are comfortable with existing arrangements, and don't want Washington messing around with things. Not a bad instinct to have. And one that has led to ObamaCare's current impasse.

P.S. Ramesh Ponnuru made similar arguments a while back in this post