A short history of GOP backpedaling (now featuring Obamacare!)

The way Republicans talk about Social Security and Medicare sometimes, you’d think they were handed down to Moses on Mount Sinai along with the Ten Commandments. (Tea Partiers will remember the Ten Commandments as the thick, heavy tome full of liberal job-killing regulations that devastated the once-thriving graven image industry and forced private employers to give their workers a day off in blatant violation of democratically enacted late-Bronze Age right-to-work laws.)

The truth is, most Americans love those two big-government programs, and attempting to outright dismantle them is a fool’s errand. The best they can do is try to convince the beneficiaries of big government that big-government liberals are scheming to get their sleazy big-government hands on their big-government benefits.

You saw this during last year’s presidential election, when the Romney campaign derided the $700 billion in Medicare “cuts” (which weren’t actually benefit cuts, by the way) achieved by Obamacare. Turns out that Wisconsin’s most dedicated Ayn Rand acolyte, Paul Ryan, had preserved those same cuts in his proposed budget. But you weren’t supposed to notice that. You were supposed to hear “$700 billion in Medicare cuts” and pee your pantaloons like an Archer Daniels Midland irrigation sprinkler from late summer all the way through Election Day.

Of course, their strategy in this regard is pretty effective, judging by the reactions of some anti-government protesters to perceived threats to their Medicare benefits. It started at one South Carolina town hall meeting, when an irony-challenged constituent told Rep. Robert Inglis (R-S.C.) to “keep your government hands off my Medicare.”

That’s funny once, but that sentiment has achieved a surprising amount of traction, judging by the proliferation of protest signs saying basically the same thing (here, here, here, and here, for example). But hey, these are the same people who somehow convinced millions of Americans that Saddam Hussein was behind the 9/11 terrorist attacks and are currently trying to convince young Americans that it’s in their best interest not to purchase comprehensive health insurance policies.

Which brings us to the latest (granted, qualified and tentative) Republican embrace of big-government socialism, and to one of the first cracks in the meticulously lathed oh-my-God-Obamacare-is-the-worst-thing-to-happen-to-the-U.S.-since-slavery plank in the modern-day GOP platform.

Turns out those Obamacare exchanges that are the key linchpin of the president’s health care reform strategy may not be the Satan’s playground Republicans have consistently made them out to be.

In a recent National Review interview, our own Sen. Ron Johnson, one of Congress’ most staunchly conservative members, sounded resigned when discussing the ACA:

Johnson won his Senate seat in 2010 based in large part on his fierce opposition to Obamacare, which he still adamantly opposes as an assault on Americans’ liberty and criticizes in the harshest terms (look no further than his recent weekly radio address). But simple repeal is no longer enough, he believes. He says that Republicans have to acknowledge that the law now exists. “How do you repeal?” he asks. “Yeah, you can get rid of the law, but what do you do with what’s already there?” He continues, “Am I opposed to state-based exchanges? No.” He thinks “it may be that they can be usable.” “I’m all for repeal,” he stipulates, “but it’s there. What do you do with what’s there?

Granted, that’s hardly a hearty endorsement. But saying that he’s not opposed to the exchanges and acknowledging that they may be “usable” is miles removed from the overcooked rhetoric of the past two years.

Even more surprising, though, is the reaction of Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), a fierce opponent of Obamacare, who recently said of the exchanges, “[They] will eventually work and work well.”

You what now? I thought all was lost when the tyrant Obama crossed the Rubicon, signaling the beginning of the end of the republic. Now y’all are saying the exchanges will work and that they may be “usable”?

Looks to me like Republicans have taken note of the recent surging Affordable Care Act enrollment numbers and are preemptively ducking for cover. Maybe by 2016 the public will forget the government shutdown, the misinformation campaigns, the state-by-state sabotage, the comical exaggerations, the complete absence of congressional Republican support, and the 24/7 full-throated opposition and come to believe that the GOP was onboard all along, helping those who previously had no hope of obtaining insurance to sign up through those “usable” health care exchanges.

If so, the GOP’s turnaround would fit a familiar pattern. Today, their opposition to the most popular government programs is either absent or carefully nuanced. But when Medicare and Social Security were first proposed, there were plenty of conservatives who rose up to criticize them in the harshest and most hyperbolic terms.

Here are just a few examples:


“If you don’t [stop Medicare] and 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.” — Ronald Reagan

“[Medicare] is not public welfare. It is not charity. It is not kindness. It is socialism. Socialism is not the answer to anything.” — Sen. Carl Curtis (R-Neb.)

“Having given our pensioners their medical care in kind, why not food baskets, why not public housing accommodations, why not vacation resorts, why not a ration of cigarettes for those who smoke and of beer for those who drink?” — Barry Goldwater

“Socialized medicine.” — George H.W. Bush



Social Security

“I am not exaggerating the folly of this legislation. The saving it forces on our workers is a cruel hoax.” — Alf Landon, 1936 GOP presidential nominee

“Never in the history of the world has any measure been brought here so insidiously designed as to prevent business recovery, to enslave workers and to prevent any possibility of the employers providing work for the people.” — Rep. John Taber, (R-N.Y.)

Because of Social Security, Americans will “feel the lash of the dictator.” — Rep. Daniel Reed, (R-N.Y.)

Finally, in a May 2011 interview with Fox News’ Chris Wallace, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) made no secret about his feelings regarding Social Security:

WALLACE: You talk a lot about the Constitution. You say Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid are all unconstitutional.

PAUL: Technically, they are. … There’s no authority [in the Constitution]. Article I, Section 8 doesn’t say I can set up an insurance program for people. What part of the Constitution are you getting it from? The liberals are the ones who use this General Welfare Clause. … That is such an extreme liberal viewpoint that has been mistaught in our schools for so long and that’s what we have to reverse.

Oh, well. The more things change …

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