America's Real Choice
We all remember the last time that liberals were telling us that stagnation was the new normal. It was back in 1980, the year that Ronald Reagan stepped up and taught a generation of liberals what to do with their pessimism and their declinism.
Now we have a new pharaoh, one who knew not Carter, and he and his courtiers look out uncomprehendingly at their half-built stimulus pyramids and wonder why the American people just can't seem to get the job done.
We have a choice -- between the bitter-ender statist philosophy of entitlements today, entitlements tomorrow, entitlements forever and the Romney alternative, which is to reform entitlements someday, for the next generation. That is a polite way of saying that America's seniors like me will vote only for a politician who promises to force our children to pay for our Medicare in full. As for the Medicare for our children...well, we'll all be dead by then.
Why in the world would our children agree to a deal like that? And why in the world are their children sitting around still transfixed by the modern King Canute?
Imagine President Obama arguing that, why, if the seniors only paid a little more for their Medicare, the middle-aged could have the jobs, and the young could have the education and the vital services they all need.
I've been reading about how this works in the long run from David Hackett Fischer and The Great Wave: Price Revolutions and the Rhythms of History. Fischer is a fool -- the kind of knee-jerk liberal academic who sends his students out into Manhattan in the 1980s to check on the homeless. But he presents interesting data on the four great inflationary waves of the last millennium. In the 18th century, the rising prices came from governments going deeper and deeper into debt and inflation to finance their wars. It all ended in hyperinflation and bloody revolution and world war.
Two hundred years later, we have governments going deeper and deeper into debt and inflation to finance middle-class entitlements. We have the supporters of the regime unwilling to give up a dime of their entitlements, from Medicare to professorial tenure. Just like the aristocrats of France.
Do you remember the climactic meeting of the National Medicare Association, when their president, Charlene Heston, theatrically flourished her Medicare card and declared that they could take it out of her cold, dead hand? Me neither. But The Wall Street Journal found some seniors down in Florida who sound like they were there.
Here's a retiree in South Florida. He doesn't like the idea that today's Medicare won't be available to his descendants.
"I've got four children and 12 grandchildren," said Mr. Yordon, who planned to vote for Mr. Obama. "I can't believe the one item of most consequence to me would become a voucher" for them.
Dealing with private insurance companies for cars and homes, he said, was tough enough. Navigating the private health-insurance market at his age would be impossible, he said: "I just can't believe that that would work."
Er, Mr. Yordon, here's an idea. Why not get your kids to help you navigate the insurance market as you get older? That's what the Jewish bubbie next-door does.
What about this 91-year-old senior?
"I would like them to leave Medicare alone," she said. She has been in the hospital four times in the past five years, twice for surgeries to remove cholesterol from arteries in her legs. "I was very satisfied" with Medicare, she said.
You had better not mess with the Medicare Amendment Conservatives, the folks who defend that well-known constitutional amendment that reads that "Congress shall make no law reducing the benefits of existing retirees."
But let us step back a moment. What would it take to persuade seniors that we ought to get by with less on the Medicare front? My guess is that you can't, just like you can't get people to get in supplies of bottled water before the hurricane hits. We will reform the entitlements on the day when the government can't borrow any more money and can't print any more money.
Don't get me wrong. I'm all for Mitt Romney, the turnaround artist, and all for Paul Ryan and his Ryan Plan to voucherize Medicare. Maybe the two of them can chip away at the edges of the welfare state citadel and teach chaps like Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer a lesson. But it is utter folly to imagine that anyone can turn around a Great Wave on a dime.
We'll know when we have truly turned the corner and decided to reform the welfare state. We will hear people on the street yelling, Don't gimme that "free stuff"! Give me freedom!
What a choice that would be.
Christopher Chantrill (mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org) 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.