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Medicare Debate Will Be Decided in Presidential Campaign

12:00 AM, Jun 15, 2011 • By JEFFREY H. ANDERSON
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Jay Cost has written that, in 2008, Barack Obama ran “a bandwagon campaign with a simple purpose. When your candidate lacks the experience traditionally thought to be necessary to run the government, and you have two wars and an economic slowdown, you need something to cover the gap. And that something was the impression that there was a broad, mass movement behind Obama.”

obama hands hips

To some extent, the Obama campaign was clearly quite successful in creating that impression. Even now, most people don’t realize that Obama beat John McCain by 3.3 points less than the average margin by which Democrats won in House races that year. (Democrats won by 10.6 points in the House; Obama won by 7.3 points over McCain.) 

Cost continues: “Now, he’s the president who has a real — and extremely disappointing — record. Still, look for his team to generate, once again, the impression that he’s riding the crest of some unprecedented wave of popular support. That’s the point of the billion-dollar campaign fund, the gratuitous (and utterly absurd) suggestions that Texas is somehow in play, and the general idea that he’s virtually invincible next year.” 

This isn’t the only realm, however, in which the Democrats are employing the bandwagon strategy. They are using the same strategy to try to defeat the House Republicans’ Medicare proposal (which is based on a bipartisan proposal released by President Clinton’s Medicare commission). Democrats — and their allies in the press — are actively trying to create the sense that the GOP Medicare proposal is inevitably doomed, thereby avoiding a much-needed debate on its actual merits. Hence, poll after poll has been publicized, allegedly demonstrating that the proposal is horribly unpopular. 

I could point out that, on a relatively complex issue such as this one, the wording of the question is everything. There is a colossal difference between asking, “Given widespread recognition, from President Obama and Republican leaders alike, that Medicare is driving our $14 trillion national debt, do you support reforming Medicare by providing future seniors (those not yet 55) with premium support to use to purchase private health insurance of their choice, thereby attempting to lower costs by increasing competition and choice?” — and asking, “Do you support preserving Medicare as it is, or do you support changing it from a guaranteed benefit to a privatized voucher program in which seniors get a fixed amount of money to shop for health care on the open market?” Never mind that the second question is inaccurate on several levels — it’s also a lot closer than the first question to the way the choice is being portrayed in many polls. The key point is, these two questions will elicit very different responses.

I could also point out that a CBS News/New York Times poll showed that, by a margin of 47 to 41 percent, its respondents supported the Republican Medicare proposal — even though a third of them (33 percent) were Democrats and only a quarter (25 percent) were Republicans. And that a Kaiser poll showed respondents to be evenly split (49 to 49 percent) on the GOP proposal — even though nearly half leaned Democratic (49 percent) while barely over a third leaned Republican (34 percent). And that a Pew Research Center poll showed that respondents oppose the GOP plan by only 5 points (41 to 36 percent) — even though 50 percent of its respondents leaned Democratic and only 39 percent leaned Republican. And that the widely reported CNN poll from a fortnight ago was released without its actual poll or internals (it did, however, release its specific Medicare question, which didn’t describe the Republican proposal in the least).

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