I’ve noted several times that when it comes to issues like Medicare and Social Security, establishment journalism is most focused on whether political rhetoric is inflammatory than on whether it might be true. Or put a different way, the details of how key government programs work is of comparatively trivial importance compared to whether the ads a controversy generates are mean. As yet another instance of this, we have the unfortunate example of ABC’s Rick Klein’s report on the new politics of Medicare.
Klein laments that “the ‘adult conversation’ around Medicare reform has taken a detour in the land of adult diapers.” And he goes on to explain that that’s mainly because Democrats are running ads saying either that the Ryan plans “ends” Medicare (which there’s a very strong factual argument that it does) or that it would be deeply damaging to America’s seniors (which math suggests it would). And it’s bad to run ads like that because that’s ‘Mediscare’. And of course the Ryan plan doesn’t ‘end’ Medicare? Why? Because Politifact said so.
For good measure, 2010 Republican claims that Democrats were cutting Medicare by cutting subsidies for insurance companies in Medicare Advantage is put on an equal par with 2011 Democratic claims that the Ryan plan phases out Medicare and replaces it with a system of voucher/premium support for senior to go buy health insurance coverage from private insurance providers.
There’s a lot that goes into the mentality that creates this sort of reporting. One key factor is the establishment concept that cuts to entitlement programs (i.e., social insurance programs) are always the adult thing to do. And people who think that’s a bad idea are being political. What it all really comes down to though is that if you ignore what the policy changes actually do — the reality of the situation — and focus on bromides about ‘Mediscare’ and or the default assume that dramatic claims can’t possible be true, you end up misinforming the public. You make yourself inherently more game-able by the folks who are injecting dishonesty into the public debate.
Seen from another vantage point, far better to have an engaged debate on the merits of how the policy actually works, by people engaged with the actual details, than a blase posture of everybody should be nice and not engage in politics when something demonstrably dramatic/revolutionary and arguably deeply damaging is being debated.
Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.