Republican candidates for office are finding out the hard way that support for Privatizing Ryan's Serfin' USA Roadmap to Ruin is really, really unpopular. Take Mike Haridopolos, for instance. He is the president of the Florida State Senate and one of three would-be GOP candidates vying to challenge Democrat Bill Nelson for his U.S. Senate seat. During a call-in interview to a St. Augustine radio show, he was asked the question point-blank: Would you vote for or against a Republican plan to overhaul Medicare?
He refused to give a straight answer, trying to play it both ways. He hemmed and hawed and called the question "hypothetical" -- while simultaneously positing that Ryan's plan was a "good start" and that it had "a lot of merit."
The host eventually became so frustrated with Haridopolos' refusal to simply answer the damned question that he simply hung up on him. It's an important question requiring an honest, straightforward answer. Especially in the state that has the highest per capita number of Medicare recipients in the country. In sheer numbers, Florida, with 3.2 million Medicare recipients is second only to California, with 4.4 million.
It's also a vivid reminder that Medicare has become as much a "third rail" in American politics as Social Security. While the entire republican caucus in the House held hands and jumped off the cliff together, voting as a bloc in favor of the Ryan budget plan, it has also provided a wedge that has been used with some success to split the republicans.
Take for example hand-picked GOP candidate Jane Corwin in last month's special election in the New York 26th. That is Jack Kemp's old seat and one of my grandma's lived in that district. No Democrat had held that seat in my conscious memory. It was as solidly Republican as the district I currently live in is Democratic.
But Jane Corwin said she agreed with Paul Ryan's scheme to destroy Medicare as we know it and it cost her the seat she should have won standing up. The NRCC and the GOP leadership in the House can spin until they generate a gravitational field, insisting that Corwin was a "bad candidate" until the cows come home. The establishment still hand-picked her, after grooming her for higher office for years. If she really were a bad candidate, it would say more about them than it would about her. Medicare decided that election and even those who spin it otherwise know that statement is true, whether they will admit it or not.
The fact of the matter is, polling shows that over half of the American people hate the Ryan plan, with the highest level of opposition coming from senior citizens -- the exact group of people who would be spared it's ravages.
The irony isn't lost on me that the very people who would get hurt the worst is the demographic that registers the highest support for the plan -- but when you're still on your parents insurance and don't have any pre-existing conditions and have never looked for insurance on the private market, it's easy to think you can navigate the system.
Remember how much smarter your parents got in the ten years it took you to get from 15 to 25? Same principle here.
But it doesn't really matter, because guess who votes?
That's right. The old people who oppose it the most.
I also have to admit that my inner armchair-psychologist is bemused by Ryan.
As we all know, he is a Randian, and Randians embrace an "ethic" of selfishness. I honestly believe that Paul Ryan thought that those 55 and older would be totally cool with throwing their kids and grandkids to the wolves, so long as they themselves didn't have to pay the penalty. I think he was taken aback when people asked "but what about my kids?" because he lacks the capacity for empathy that is required before one can think to ask such a question.
When it turned out that most people aren't sociopaths, I truly believe that Ryan was genuinely shocked. Not only that, it was a possibility he failed to consider, because he lacked the empathy necessary for that sort of foresight. Fortunately, that flaw always proves to be the undoing of the Objectivist Libertarians like Ryan -- not just because it energizes and mobilizes the left, but because it mobilizes people of faith as well, and as we well know, there are many people of faith in the ranks of the GOP.
I have long said that the republicans were headed for a split, that the religious right was going to get sick of getting nothing and split from the libertarian wing of the party. I think that all the bring-back-DADT and anti-abortion nonsense that they know is going nowhere is an effort to keep them from splitting off sooner rather than later.
But fat lot of good that pandering is doing when the most prominent piece of republican legislation out there, that has dominated the news for three months now, causes true Christians to recoil in horror.
* * * * *
This post originally appeared at Show Me Progress and is part of a series I am writing as a blogging fellow for the Strengthen Social Security Campaign, a coalition of more than 270 national and state organizations dedicated to preserving and strengthening Social Security.