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A Prescient Warning Against Socialized Medicine

National Review's Jonah Goldberg links to this Ronald Reagan diatribe against the Medicare bill. Goldberg says it's "still fresh today." This is true, but not in the way Goldberg thinks. Reagan made a series of falsifiable claims about Medicare that, listened to forty years later, sound utterly preposterous. I transcribed a few choice bits. Here's Reagan describing what will happen if Medicare is enacted:

First you [the governement] decide that the doctor can have so many patients. ... So a doctor decides he wants to practice in one town, and the government has to say to him, "You can't live in that town, they already have enough doctors, you have to go live somewhere else. And from here it's only a short step to dictating where he will go. Pretty soon your son won't decide when he's in school where he will go or what he will do for a livin, but will wait for the government to tell him where he will go to work and what he will do. ...

And 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.

You'd think conservatives would be embarrassed about this sort of talk. After all, can there be anybody who doesn't live in a militia compound who believes the passage of Medicare represented the death knell of that freedom in America? Does anybody think this business about the government dictating what city doctors live in has come true? Yet conservatives continue to trumpet it.

Why? Reagan's diatribe is "still fresh" because it's exactly the same sort of rhetoric conservatives employ against health care reform today. I imagine his readers are supposed to consider it "fresh" because they're supposed to substitute "Obamacare" in their head every time Reagan refers to Medicare. This allows them to sustain a mental condition wherein hysterical pconservative predictions about the last social reform are forgotten in the specific, but remembered in the general and applied to the next social reform.

--Jonathan Chait