Who says the GOP doesn’t have ideas? To answer President Obama’s budget proposal, Paul Ryan (R-WI) gives us a package that smacks of necromancy or despair (I can’t tell which): Social Security privatization. It’s back — combined with deep cuts to Medicare, and every other entitlement program under the sun. Thankfully, in a sign that the leftward move we felt last year endures at least partially, Republicans can’t run away fast enough.
Of course, there’s no reason we should let them. Forcing a floor vote, which congressional Democrats intend to do, will either further radicalize the GOP or, if managed correctly by our side, force deep splits between the party’s base and its (sadly) swelling independent ranks. How to “manage” the debate is the question. Given the state of political discourse in this country, Democrats would be well within their rights to use the specter of privatization to match the GOP’s irresponsible, paranoid fever pitch. Privatization would work a fundamental departure from the status quo, in a way that even the most “radical” of our tepid health care reform proposals would not. And recall that the final iteration of Palin’s “death panel” lie involved the allegation that — wait for it — government bureaucrats would cut Medicare, thus denying care to seniors and hastening their demise. If we accept the premise that when the government makes coverage decisions, it’s rationing, but it’s somehow not when private firms do the same, then a Republican caucus debating the near-elimination of Medicare approximates some kind of Death Appellate Panel, sitting en banc. Hey, I may lack Palin’s flair for naming, but at least this isn’t a Facebook note.
Should congressional Democrats seize on this issue, we can expect that they will not, in fact, attempt to strike the paranoid, near-psychotic tone that’s characterized the GOP response to healthcare reform. That’s for the better. In the past year, we’ve managed to squander the most solid majority we’ve had in decades, but for their victory, the GOP has paid a steep moral price, and surrendered any claim to true patriotism. Translating our moral victory into an actual one will be tough work, but joining the Republican race to the bottom is emphatically not the way to do it.