What Third Rail?
Nancy Pelosi has three words for the Democrats' campaign in 2012: Medicare, Medicare, Medicare. We've already seen a sneak preview of this strategy in the delicately crafted YouTube video of Rep. Ryan trundling grannie off a cliff. Republicans are supposed to be cowering in fear.
If Social Security is the "third rail" of American politics, Medicare is the "overhead wire." Third rails are normally energized at about 700 volts, whereas the overhead wires for President Obama's very fast trains usually come in at 25,000 volts.
Yet last week Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry in his first debate outing doubled down on Social Security as a "Ponzi scheme," inviting a street fight on the issue. Does Perry know something we don't?
Obviously Perry and his already notorious consultant, Dave Carney, figure that the game has changed. Are they right? If they are, it means that Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats are making a grand strategic error.
Back in the old days, when seniors dwelt in the Garden of Eden of the United States with a AAA credit rating, the only way you could frighten seniors was with Social Security demagoguery and Mediscare. Today in the Great Recession there are fears everywhere you turn, starting with jobs and debt.
Seniors are worrying just as much about the pathetic interest they are getting on their savings accounts and the rising prices at the grocery store as the problems of Medicare. Then there are the would-be seniors, with 401(k)s bashed about by the Great Recession. If only they could retire and start to worry about Medicare cuts.
Today when Nancy Pelosi says "Medicare!," an astute politician can reply: OK, so let's forget about protecting kids from mercury poisoning. It is fatuous to insist, as the president did on Thursday, that we can do everything. Governing is choosing. Most Americans can see, with the economy teetering on the edge of a double-dip recession, that if you don't choose, you risk flushing America down the toilet.
All politicians like to frighten the voters. The question is: can you scare more voters with "third rail" or with "Ponzi scheme?" Rick Perry is signaling that he's ready to play sound-bite volleyball on entitlements.
For decades, ever since FDR, the Democrats were the perennial champions of sound-bite politics. You'd watch a Republican on the stump and just hope that he'd avoid the dreadful "gaffe" that would put him on the defensive for weeks. Bill Clinton was the master of the game; he knew exactly what to say and how to say it. They retired his number after he left the White House.
But now the presidential election of 2012 is shaping up as a contest between the TelePrompter president and an Aggie All-American. All of a sudden it's the Republican who's spiking the ball over the net and the Democrat who's struggling to return it.
Of course, we should have seen this coming. Remember Misty and Kerri, the US beach-volleyball gold medalists at the 2008 Olympics, with President Bush?
Let the Democrats limber up for one more college try out of the old Mediscare playbook. The rest of us have other fish to fry. What does it mean, for instance, that Republican candidates like Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, and Rick Perry so obviously lack the proper breeding? These days, an American matron out of the upper-middle class looks for her child to marry someone with the right degrees out of the right universities. Yet Palin and Perry hale from Podunk U, and Bachmann from the conservative Christian universities developed by the likes of Jerry Falwell.
It wasn't long ago that Richard Florida was touting "ideopolises" in The Rise of the Creative Class, and Judis and Teixeira were boosting The Emerging Democratic Majority. They saw an American future with well-schooled creative types leading a grateful corps of women and minorities into an elite-guided future. The politics of Palin, Bachmann, and Perry represents a nasty surprise for this vision of the future. Where did those yahoos come from? Why, Rick Perry reportedly dotted the i in "Rick" for a fan recently with a big heart.
It's really not that hard. Most American women want a decent marriage for themselves and a decent future for their children. Men, too. Mediscare, flatulent stimuli, and red meat for the Democratic base are rather beside the point for such voters. They are working towards a different politics, an ordinary politics that will deliver on their ordinary needs. It will probably not align with the self-congratulatory politics of the upper-middle class.
The day will come when people look back and wonder why they used to make such a fuss about third rails.
Christopher Chantrill is a frequent contributor to American Thinker. See his usgovernmentspending.com and also usgovernmentdebt.us. At americanmanifesto.org he is blogging and writing An American Manifesto: Life After Liberalism.