On April 13, 2011, President Obama gave a press conference in which he shredded Paul Ryan's Republican budget and its kill-Medicare plan into pieces, while Ryan could only sit in the audience and look stunned. Let me refresh your memory:
Something started that day. Something started that day that's boiling the current presidential campaign of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan along with down-ticket Republicans.
As you might know, Republicans, including their Vice Presidential nominee-in-waiting, are rolling out their moms, in order to try to hide their votes (and in Ryan's case, authoring the bill) to kill Medicare. It's going to be a disaster, if you ask me. This whole "I have a mom therefore I love Medicare" thing strikes incredibly close to another rollout the Republicans did four years ago. Her name was Sarah Palin. John McCain was desperate for women's votes, wanted to exploit the internal Democratic primary fight between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, and figured if you put a woman on the ticket, people will forget the GOP's dangerous stand on issues important to women - whether it's the dignity of equal pay, or equal access to needed health care services.
As history tells it, that ploy did not work out for Republicans. American women aren't stupid. They chose the ticket that favored their health and economic equality overwhelmingly over the ticket that was basically set up to send up a tingle through the legs of men.
Is the mom rollout similar? I mean, Paul Ryan isn't the only Republican in the country suddenly hugging his mom on the national stage. They must have poll-tested this strategy, don't you think? Sure. They probably have. And they have come up with this as the best possible strategy to avoid talking about their party's position - and the near unanimous votes by Republicans in Congress - to end Medicare. The implication is, "I have a mom who's old; therefore I would never screw with the benefits of those who are old or nearing retirement, so stop asking me about this thing that I voted for and/or wrote, damnit!"
So, why won't it work? Because that one has a mom isn't exactly a news item. The Medicare fight is being played out on the Democrats' terms. There really is no way that it is possible for it not to. Democrats were responsible for instituting Medicare, strengthening Medicare and preserving Medicare. The whole concept of Medicare is a social compact that is antithetical to the Republican vision of America. Medicare is about a whole society, through tax dollars, funding health care for the elderly and the vulnerable. It embodies the Democratic (and democratic) concept that we are all responsible for each other, and belies the GOP vision of an America where the common good simply does not exist.
They can bring out their moms, but when they do, the question in the minds of people worried about Medicare only gets asked more boldly: What will these people do to Medicare? What is it they did (or at least, are being accused of doing), that they have to bring out their moms to defend them? Of these accusations, are there proof? This frame puts the question in the proper context, and when people begin asking for proof, one needs go no further than the Paul Ryan budget, that Republicans voted for lock, stock and barrel.
The success that President Obama and the Democrats are having on the Medicare fight begins with getting the Republicans to talk about Medicare to begin with, and not simply in pointing out their disastrous plans to end it.
This is where President Obama and his team are so brilliant. All this didn't happen in one day. It didn't just take the Republicans voting to end Medicare (twice, mind you). It took something else. It took the President making Paul Ryan famous for his plan to end Medicare. Remember in 2011, when Obama delivered a blistering takedown against the Ryan budget, with Paul Ryan sitting there in the audience looking like a a cyclone had just blown over him? Remember the President coming out swinging again this year calling it a Trojan horse? All of that, and the President's and the Democrats' unwavering commitment to protect the social safety net and investments in our future while still making tough cuts along with asking the rich to pay a little more in taxes, are what laid the groundwork for this conversation today.
What the president has done is force the Republicans to prove something he has been saying for a long, long time: you cannot only cut in order to balance the budget, without affecting crucial social safety nets and national investments and infrastructure. The president had long presented his plan to balance the budget, as described above. Under pressure to produce their counter-proposal when they gained power in the 2010 elections, Republicans came up with the now-infamous Ryan plan - doing exactly what the president had said for years would have to be done if tax-raisers were off the table: end the guarantee of social safety net to the poor, sick and the elderly, end the promise of a top notch education for students, and let our infrastructure become rapidly third-world.
That, my friends, is the debate we are having right now. It's not about how to reform Medicare to sustain for future generations - the president has already led the way on that with the Affordable Care Act's re-investment in patient care by taking waste away from insurance companies - an accomplishment the Romney-Ryan ticket promises to repeal. The debate is no longer about how to reform Medicare because the President has proven that the Republicans aren't interested in doing that. The debate, instead, has turned into a more fundamental referendum on the Republicans' demonstrated commitment to end Medicare. The GOP is stuck trying to lie their way out of that basic truth, and unless they succeed, it doesn't matter one lick that they are trying to assure older people that they would only kill Medicare for their kids and grandkids. The Democrats have no plans to allow an escape route. And the more they talk about it, the more stuck they get - especially when they have to bring out their moms.
Medicare isn't one of those abstract "cut spending" issues. It's real. It works. And there are going to be real electoral consequences for blatantly trying to kill it.
Another thing. Running for office is a job interview, and we all know what happens to applicants who bring their moms to their job interview.