We’ve spent a lot of time arguing about Medicare this week: What each of the presidential candidates is proposing and what it would mean for seniors. But sometimes, with all of the gobbledygook about benefit guarantees and growth rates, it’s easy to lose sight of what each side of the debate really wants. And that’s the real issue. Who believes in Medicare and who doesn’t? Who thinks that government should guarantee that all seniors have a defined set of benefits and who does not?

Steve Benen, who has spent plenty of time arguing the finer points of policy this week, takes a moment to answer those question.  Forgive the long quote, but I think he captures the debate particularly well:

What is Medicare? It’s a massive, government-run system of socialized medicine. It’s wildly popular, very successful, and one of the pillars of modern Democratic governance. This government-run system of socialized medicine was created by Democrats against the opposition of conservative Republicans, and it’s Democrats who’ve fought to protect it for more than a half-century.
Or to summarize, the left loves Medicare and always has; the right hates Medicare and always has. For liberals, the system is a celebrated ideal; for conservatives it’s an unconstitutional, big-government outrage in desperate need of privatization.
In 2012, once we get past all of the talking points and attack ads, we’re left with this: Romney/Ryan wants you to believe they’re the liberals. No, seriously. Think about what the Republican presidential ticket, Fox News, Krauthammer, Donald Trump, and the Republican National Committee have been saying all week: those mean, rascally Democrats cut our beloved Medicare and voters should be outraged.
In other words, the argument pushed by the most right-wing major-party ticket in a generation is that Barack Obama is a left-wing socialist who wants government-run socialized medicine and that Barack Obama is a far-right brute who wants to undermine government-run socialized medicine.

Greg Sargent makes a similar observation this morning: That the Romney-Ryan agenda is “about obfuscating the actual policy differences between the two candidates over the program.”

I’d quibble with Benen’s use of the term “socialized medicine.” Medicare is actually “socialized insurance.” Socialized medicine implies that the government has taken ownership of the providers of medical care, by running hospitals and turning the professionals, like doctors, into government employees. You see that in some countries abroad: The United Kingdom has a version of this. And here in the United States, the Veterans Administration operates on that principle. But Medicare is government-run insurance, not government-run medicine.

Otherwise, he and Sargent have it absolutely right. And it’s not hard to see why supporters of Romney and Ryan have adopted this strategy. A frontal assault on Medicare would be true to Republican principles of governing. But it’d also alienate older, white voters that have become the Republican base. By attacking Obama's relatively mild reforms of Medicare, even as they propose far more radical changes, Romney and Ryan can tap into white, working class resentment and the sense—particularly among the elderly—that Obama is stealing from them.

It’s not a particularly honest or noble way to run a campaign. Time will tell whether it’s effective.

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