The Republican Scare Tactics on Health Care Don’t Sound As Good As In The Past


One of the problems with the Republican effort to distort health care reform is that they don’t have a Ronald Reagan to deliver the misinformation. While still untrue, the conservative claims about Medicare sounded more convincing coming from Ronald Reagan than current claims from Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. There are many similarities between Ronald Reagan’s scare tactics about Medicare and the scare tactics being used today about health care reform. (Hat tip to Digby).

My name is Ronald Reagan. I have been asked to talk on the several subjects that have to do with the problems of the day. . . .

Now back in 1927 an American socialist, Norman Thomas, six times candidate for president on the Socialist Party ticket, said the American people would never vote for socialism. But he said under the name of liberalism the American people would adopt every fragment of the socialist program. . . .

But at the moment I’d like to talk about another way because this threat is with us and at the moment is more imminent. One of the traditional methods of imposing statism or socialism on a people has been by way of medicine. It’s very easy to disguise a medical program as a humanitarian project. . . . Now, the American people, if you put it to them about socialized medicine and gave them a chance to choose, would unhesitatingly vote against it. We have an example of this.

While some on the far right still claim that Medicare is leading us down the path to socialism, if put to a vote there is no doubt that an overwhelming majority would vote to keep the program. Among the scare stories told:

The doctor begins to lose freedom. . . . First you decide that the doctor can have so many patients. They are equally divided among the various doctors by the government. But then doctors aren’t equally di­vided geographically. So a doctor decides he wants to practice in one town and the government has to say to him, you can’t live in that town. They already have enough doctors. You have to go someplace else. And from here it’s only a short step to dictating where he will go. . . . All of us can see what happens once you establish the precedent that the government can determine a man’s working place and his working methods, determine his employment. From here it’s a short step to all the rest of socialism, to determining his pay. And pretty soon your son won’t decide, when he’s in school, where he will go or what he will do for a living. He will wait for the government to tell him where he will go to work and what he will do.

This prediction didn’t come true, just like the predictions from those proclaiming health care reform must inevitably lead to doom are unlikely to come true.  Of course the details are important. We can have bad outcomes if the health care reform is done the wrong way, but the opponents on the right are opposing any efforts at meaningful health care reform.

Reagan completed his attack on Medicare by concluding:

And if you don’t do this and if I don’t do it, one of these days you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children, and our children’s children, what it once was like in America when men were free.

Another prediction which has not come true. Other than a handful of people on the extreme right, few would claim that formation of Medicare marks the end of freedom in America. Some conservatives would make the same claims about health care reform now, but the lies sound even less convincing when coming from someone without the skill of Ronald Reagan.

Despite the claims from the right, Medicare provides health care coverage more economically than private plans. Despite all the scare stories of government taking control of health care, Medicare also tends to intervene in medical decisions far less than many private plans. The scare stories about “socialized medicine” were greatly exaggerated while nobody predicted all the problems under corporate-controlled medicine.

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  1. 1
    Mike b.t.r.m. says:

    I’m not fighting the health care battle- I’ve already demonstrated my lack of knowledge between medicare and medicaid. But one thing in your post caught my attention:..From here it’s a short step to all the rest of socialism, to determining his pay.. Well maybe we missed some steps to get there but Obama is already determining corporate america’s pay. Of course only out of necessity, and only because of Bush’s blunders, not because he holds one hint of a thought of socialism in his all knowing brain.

  2. 2
    Leslie Parsley says:

    Not trying too hard to be ugly, I always thought the man was senile before he left office. If anyone has the professional knowledge and experience to argue for reform, it is you. I have neither. What I do have is more of a gut feeling that reform is necessary. The system as we know it has been “cratering” for decades and too many people are suffering – even dying – because of it.  Personally, I put most of the blame squarely in the lap of the insurance companies.

  3. 3
    Londa Hillard says:

    The Republican Scare Tactics on Health Care Don’t Sound As Good As …

  4. 4
    londahillard says:

    The Republican Scare Tactics on Health Care Don’t Sound As Good As …

  5. 5
    Christoher Skyi says:

    I would love to keep up with this topic, but I just don’t have the time (i.e., working, trying to level up my character in World of WarCraft, things like that), but I do try to keep tabs on the practical-economic side of the arguments.
    Tyler Cowen of the Marginal Revolution blog has this to say about employer mandates — especially interesting given today’s horrific job loss numbers (so much for team Obama’s stimulus package creating jobs):
    First, the idea of an employer mandate for health care is a tax on hiring labor in a time when, if anything, the hiring of labor should be subsidized.  On top of that is the proposal to tax health insurance benefits.  Keynesians especially should be upset about these developments, although I haven’t heard many peeps.  Even if they favor this policy in the abstract, surely they are accustomed to the idea that the short run is very important, most of all for labor markets and aggregate demand.

  6. 6
    Ron Chusid says:

    I would prefer that mandates not be included, but note that it is the insurance companies (as well as many on the left) which are pushing for this. The idea to tax benefits came from the Republicans.

    Of course many conservatives and libertarians exaggerate the economic implications of policies they don’t have, and their track record with predictions is as poor as Reagan’s per the above.

    It is rather premature to expect Obama’s stimulus package to have an effect on jobs yet. Trying to shift the blame to Obama for failed Republican policies only fools those who are already fooled by the rhetoric of the right.

  7. 7
    Mike b.t.r.m. says:

    I realize post #2 is a link to another site, but what is it? Is that what is called a “troll” just some automated posting without a person behind it? Is it a courtesy or required post acknowledging some other site referenced your site? I’m still quite unfamiliar with some terms in the blog world.

  8. 8
    Ron Chusid says:

    That is a trackback. They occur when another site links here, showing where the link came from.  (Sometimes when links are made a trackback comes through but many other times they do not.)

  9. 9
    Fritz says:

    Ron, if it is still premature to start blaming the Obama administration (and Democratic congresss) for continuing economic misery, do you have any timeframe or signposts for when it would no longer be premature?

  10. 10
    Ron Chusid says:

    It is hard to say an exact time frame but as of last fall the conventional wisdom was that it would take at least a couple of years to recover from the downturn. Suddenly conservatives act as if this can be corrected immediately or Obama is at fault. Needless to say, if McCain had been elected they would not expect a rapid turn around.

  11. 11
    Mike b.t.r.m. says:

    Premature to expect the, we have to pass the whole package, A.I.G. bonus and all bill, this minute for the shovel ready projects to improve things when? How do you determine Obama hasn’t already saved the day? Perhaps but for Obama’s actions we wouldn’t be at 11% unemployment already. What time table would you suggest we use? Suddenly I have a vision of a mob of one party dropping there signs of “We need time tables” and them picked up by another party who start chanting the same thing. I’ve got a Ronald Reagan cartoon I remember as a teen I’ll put in the next post.

  12. 12
    Mike b.t.r.m. says:

    Ron, I see you already answered my last question in a previous post…Thanks.

  13. 13
    Ron Chusid says:

    I should also add that the predictions last fall were that things would be worse in 2009 before conditions started to improve.

  14. 14
    Mike b.t.r.m. says:

    Reagan cartoon, perhaps somewhere around 1981-1982 (I would have been about 14 years old)
    Frame one: Reagan as Captain steering a ship called the economy towards a waterfall, yelling: “Stay the course!”

    Frame two: Reagan yelling “stay the course” as the ship heads down the waterfall.

    Frame three: The ship is spattered on the rocks below and Reagan says; “Damn democrats!”

  15. 15
    Mike b.t.r.m. says:

    If McCain had been elected, I would have expected a protracted downturn as his agenda, IMO would have continued to make things worse. The silver lining with Obama is his agenda is so extreme, I believe we’ll be able to see the error in it more distinctly and rapidly.

  16. 16
    Mike b.t.r.m. says:

    Dare I say McCain America would be like Arnold’s California. Liberal democrate programs,wrecking what should be the most vibrante state economy with all its diverse businesses from Hollywood to agriculture. But they have a liberal republican leader to take the fall. Obama might be able to cover under “blame the last guy” for awhile but it will be way too obvious before his term is over.

  17. 17
    Mike b.t.r.m. says:

    Since I really would like opponents to make concrete predictions on say when they think Unemployment will get back to say 6%, let me make a concrete prediction myself. Reference point: I purchased a Gallon of milk for $2.50 at Walmart here in Austin and a loaf of bread for 2something (..2.68 or whatever) both items will be over $5 before Obama’s first term ends, granted, I suspect minimum wage will climb from 7 bucks to 10 so we all, relatively speaking will not be twice as broke as we are now, but definately worse than we are now. But I’m not panicked, because I don’t put my faith in government, my faith is in God, well… .243 bolt action rifle.

  18. 18
    Christoher Skyi says:

    “It is hard to say an exact time frame but as of last fall the conventional wisdom was that it would take at least a couple of years to recover from the downturn.”
    This simply comes from the historical record — just about every recession we’ve had has eventually ended w/in a couple of years, independent of which party as been in charge.  It’s like predicting at 3am that “the sun will rise in a few hours” — it’s a very safe bet no matter what.
    Let’s look at the specific sales pitch by team Obama for a massively expensive stimulus package:
    Obama has said his stimulus plan would create millions of jobs at a time when the nation’s unemployment rate has been on a frightening upward trajectory.
    “The stimulus is supposed to be designed to stabilize employment,” said Richard Sylla of New York University’s Leonard N. Stern School of Business.  “We can measure job creation then, and we can also measure new claims for unemployment benefits to see if the plan is doing what it’s supposed to do — stabilize employment,” he said.
    Obama has said the stimulus could create up to 4 million jobs. That means he has been looking at the most optimistic numbers from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. This month, the CBO released an analysis of the stimulus bill as approved by the House. The Senate passed its own version. Because the two plans are substantively the same, CBO officials say their earlier analysis still holds.
    According to Douglas Elmendorf, the CBO’s director, the stimulus plan would, by the fourth quarter of 2010, increase employment by 1.3 million to 3.9 million jobs. Without the stimulus, the analysis projects, the jobless rate would be 8.7 percent in that same quarter (NOTE that we’re close to 10% now. It’s impossible to believe that w/in the next 6 month, UE is going to drop by 2%). With the stimulus, unemployment would be lower by anywhere from 0.7 percentage points to 2.1 percentage points, according to the CBO.
    The reality is that the economy has shed 1.6 million jobs since the stimulus measure was signed in February, far overshadowing White House announcements estimating the effort has saved 150,000 jobs. Public opinion of Obama’s handling of the economy has declined along with the jobs data.
    For the first time, the administration admitted the economic forecasts it used to sell the stimulus were overly optimistic.  “At the time, our forecast seemed reasonable,” Vice President Joe Biden’s top economic adviser, Jared Bernstein, said Monday, explaining that the White House underestimated the scope of the recession. “Now, looking back, it was clearly too optimistic.”
    Worse, any boost to the economy might be short-lived, CBO warns. “The effects of the legislation would diminish rapidly after 2010,” Elmendorf said in a report sent to leaders of the House and Senate budget committees.
    Tyler Cowen of George Mason University s among a cadre of economists who argue that the administration should have moved first to stabilize the nation’s banking system and its housing market before moving the stimulus plan through Congress.
    “Banks need to be working better for any stimulus to work,” Tyler says. “I’ll be looking at the whole mess of the banking system and how it is getting resolved.”
    Amity Shlaes, a senior fellow for Economic History at the Council on Foreign Relations, says that the stimulus package will encourage “some growth for the shorter term.”
    But, like Tyler, her more conservative priorities would have been to tackle banking first, then fix entitlement programs like Social Security and create tax laws that benefit business.
    “Hang a sign around the U.S. that says, ‘Open for Business,’ ” she says, “and then decide if you need a stimulus.”
    By now, according to earlier White House economic models, the nation’s unemployment rate should be on the decline. The forecasts used to drum up support for the plan projected today’s unemployment would be about 8 percent. Instead, it sits at 9.4 percent, the highest in more than 25 years.
    In December 2008, the National Bureau of Economic Research published “What are the Effects of Fiscal Policy Shocks?” by Andrew Mountford of the University of London and Harald Uhlig of the University of Chicago. “The best fiscal policy to stimulate the economy,” they report, “is a deficit-financed tax cut,” and “the long term costs of fiscal expansion through government spending are probably greater than the short term gains.”
    That’s because “government spending shocks crowd out both residential and non-residential investment,” while “the [positive] response of consumption is small and only significantly different from zero on impact” (i.e., temporarily). But suppose all of these recent studies were mistaken, and the House Democrats’ spending spree worked as advertised. We’re still left with three million jobs added or saved at a cost of $825 billion — $275,000 per job.
    In short, a growing body of evidence suggests that a dollar of extra spending is likely to lift nominal income by less than a dollar, arguably much less. Several studies suggest the multiplier may be less than zero after a couple of years, because private investment (including housing) eventually falls by more than government spending rises. Another $550 billion of deficit spending on top of a deficit already above $1 trillion is likely to prove more dangerous than helpful to an economy already overloaded with risky debt.
    Based on team Obama’s on preditions and promises, it doesn’t look good, and that was yesterday. After today’s job numbers, it looks even worse.
    A more technical write-up can be found here:
    Wolf Versus Pettis on US Stimulus, Fiscal Deficit (Not for the Fainthearted)
    It’s sobering stuff. If correct,  Obama and team Obama can kiss goodbye any hopes of a second run,  but they’ll be the luckly ones. Life for all us is about to get much Much worse  and for long Long time.

  19. 19
    Fritz says:

    So the consensus is that it would be too early to shift blame for the 2010 elections, but if the economy still sucks when entering the 2012 election cycle, then it would be appropriate to shift blame?

  20. 20
    Christoher Skyi says:

    “Liberal democrate programs,wrecking what should be the most vibrante state economy with all its diverse businesses from Hollywood to agriculture. But they have a liberal republican leader to take the fall. Obama might be able to cover under “blame the last guy” for awhile but it will be way too obvious before his term is over.”
    Yes, this is very good point about CA. did a very good job explaining the root of CA’s problems, and how CA may foreshadow what’s coming nationally — a weaker and weaker private sector while the Federal government grows larger and stronger:

  21. 21
    Christoher Skyi says:

    Good Grief! Oama’s about to speak live on MSNBC about the latest job numbers?!  Sounds like they’re very worried — and all they have to offer is the (over) promise (yet another one) of “green” jobs and energy, and to desperately try to save the cap and tax bill in the Senate.

  22. 22
    Ron Chusid says:

    Re Arnold, Reason says “He promised to stop the crazy deficit spending, cut up the credit cards, live within our means.”

    I thought he was elected to prevent the rise of the machines. So far he has kept his promise on that one.   🙂

  23. 24
    Jesmi says:

     believe the health care industry wants the McCain plan as their ‘dream scenario.’ A completely open national market with state lines erased so that providers in the least regulated states could short circuit the requirements of the most regulated is exactly what the industry would like to see in the way of ‘reform.’ I have to admit to skepticism about willingness beyond that level. What I have read from the industry skews one of two ways: the acknowledgment of the need for single payer or even ’socialized medicine’, mostly from doctors, or the denial of the need for what I would call ‘real’ reform at all but merely a modification of the existing system to extend ‘coverage’ to more individuals in some manner that makes them money even if the government foots the bill, this mostly from businesspeople.

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