To act or react that is the question in Washington D.C. today. Congressional Representative Paul Ryan (R, WI) is attempting to act to save Medicare before it implodes in on itself. It’s called preemptive politics. It’s just not good business, and it’s not smart politics. It’s much better to wait for the tragedy to occur than it is to take the arrows for attempting to fix it before it does. No one appreciates the little kid who puts his thumb in the dike to save all the villagers. They kind of think he’s dumb for just sitting there. They know what he’s doing, they just think he’s kind of a fool for doing it. In this scenario, the kid is not the hero. The hero is the one who swoops in and saves you and your family AFTER the tragedy but before the bursting dam causes them to be swept away. The true hero, at least to the politician’s mind, waits UNTIL AFTER the tragedy happens to draw up the necessary legislation to increase the infrastructure so that the levees never break down again, “so that a tragedy such as this one never occurs again,” the glum politician will say before flashing bulbs and rolling cameras. The townspeople will then insist that the levee be named after that politician, and that politician will eventually, bashfully, and reluctantly agree. No politician is dumb enough to put their thumb in the dike. That just doesn’t happen nowadays. There’s absolutely nothing to be gained from it.
It has been projected that Medicare is 30 trillion in the hole. It has been projected that Medicare will go bankrupt in 10-12 years. Those sound like incredible projections to some. To some, it means legislative and accounting disasters have already occurred, and it is only going to get worse with the band aids we’re currently applying. To others, it is just another number below a dotted line on an accountant’s sheet, and accounting is boring, and I’m sorry but we’ve had the term trillion dropped on us so many times its lost its eye-popping appeal. Trillion is the new hundred.
We haven’t realized tangible pain from from the implosion yet, so why would we need to do anything? It’s just not good business, and it’s not smart politics. It’s much better to react in the reactive measures of law enforcement. In reality, most politicians, and people in the know, would admit (privately) that Medicare does need to be fixed, but they’re not willing to risk their political futures on it. The Senior Citizen bloc is just too powerful. Even though (spoiler alert!) it does not affect current senior citizens. It only affects those under the age of 55. All of these facts kind of go in one ear and out the other however.
Paul Ryan has a complicated, over detailed, and unemotional description of Medicare’s impending implosion, and their preemptive fixes. He doesn’t have special effects behind him, he doesn’t have reverb in his mike or a teleprompter, and he isn’t great at employing flowery language to manipulate your emotions about issues he thinks should concern you. He is a Jack Webb, ‘just the facts ma’am’ type of fella. He’s just acting in a manner that he believes will prevent the collapse of Medicare, and all of this leaves him vulnerable to demagoguery.
Demagoguery is defined by Dictionary.com as “a person, especially an orator or political leader, who gains power and popularity by arousing the emotions, passions, and prejudices of the people.” See: Republicans push old lady off cliff: http://bluearkansasblog.com/?p=6363
Lest anyone think Representative Paul Ryan is an evil genius who came up with this premium support plan (to save Medicare) while cackling to the heavens with Tesla’s electric arcs and coils buzzing in his background, it should be noted that the premium support plan was devised in 1999 by a Clinton Administration bipartisan commission that was put together to try and save Medicare. Senator John Breaux (D, LA) was the committee chairman and author of that proposed piece. All Ryan is attempting to do is incorporate Breaux’s plan that would, in effect, privatize Medicare and change it from a defined benefit to a defined contribution program. Currently Medicare provides a single benefit package that functions like an entitlement–Medicare pays for all covered benefits without a cap.
One of the primary problems is we don’t have pictures yet. We don’t have a mainstream media portrayal of Poor, little Betty Beetle from Birmingham who has an ingrown bunion that prevents her from walking properly because she can’t get money from Medicare. We don’t have people being denied coverage yet, we don’t have short term fears of bankruptcy, and we don’t have a cover of Time Magazine depicting the crisis. All we have are theoretical and educated guesses that Medicare will go belly up…Well, these guesses are based upon the fact that it’s 30 trillion in the hole, but again what does a trillion mean? It can be explained, of course, but not without eye-rolls, yawns, and tune-outs.
If we do nothing and Medicare implodes, politicians and media types will say something along the lines of the following: “It’s important that American citizens know that no one is to blame here, that no one saw this coming, and that Americans need to come together in this time of crisis.” A responsible journalist would then turn to this sad and thoughtful politician and say: ‘actually you are to blame. You knew all of this was falling, and yet you did nothing. You did nothing, because it wasn’t politically feasible to do so.’
This thoughtful and sad politician would probably reply with some line about the corruptible nature of greed and man. He would also want it noted that he has initiated government regulation legislation that would prevent this from ever happening again. He would then reluctantly agree that the levee’s reinforcements be named after him.
The politician’s greed line would be used in the same manner it was used in the HBO movie Too Big to Fail. In that movie, the writers, and the actors spewing the writers’ lines, castigated greed without getting to the heart of the matter regarding the No Income No Job No Asset (NINJA) loans that the government “encouraged” lending institutions to incorporate in their lending schedules to provide for what the Bush Administration called “affordable housing”. I list the Bush Administration as a group responsible for the affordable housing bill that led to the 9/08 crisis, but they weren’t the only players in the process that led to the financial downfall. If one were to read the New York Times’ article on the subject, one would believe that the blame begins and ends with the Bush Administration. For those interested in a more thorough, less partisan, and more professional piece on the subject, that expounds upon that which the Too Big to Fail did not, follow the excellent link below. In this article, you will read how many times Bush attempted to act to prevent the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac collapses. You will not read of Barney Frank’s (pockets full of FM and FM campaign donations) attempts to thwart Bush’s attempts to regulate and/or provide oversight to the institutions, but you will read how the origin of Bush’s affordable housing legislation dates back to James Earl Carter’s 1977 Community Reinvestment Act. You will also read pull quotes from Clinton’s attempts to support the encouragment of these loans and what the New York Times thought of such actions in 1999.
The lessons of the Bush Administration should be well known to Paul Ryan. From Bush’s attempts to fix Social Security to his attempts to fix Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Bush paid dearly in terms of popularity for attempting to initiate these preemptive actions. Bill Clinton could also teach Ryan a thing or two about the pitfalls of preemptive action. If Ryan were to listen to former CIA Bin Laden Unit Chief Michael Scheuer describe that Bill Clinton had eight to ten opportunities to kill Obama as a preemptive action (that could also be called reactive depending on the timing of these eight to ten opportunities in conjunction with bin Laden’s bombings of US embassies in Kenya, Nairobi, and Tanzania, or the USS Cole bombing). Clinton knew there would be nothing to gain politically by killing bin Laden before 9/11. He knew then, Republicans and Democrats know now, there are no rewards for preemptive actions only reactive.