In a way, it is still fresh today

IN A WAY, IT IS STILL FRESH TODAY…. Over at “The Corner,” Jonah Goldberg highlights this 1961 clip from Ronald Reagan, criticizing Medicare. Goldberg said Reagan’s criticism of the landmark health care program is, nearly a half-century later, “still fresh today.”

As Jonathan Chait explained, “This is true, but not in the way Goldberg thinks.”

Listening to the recording now, it’s kind of embarrassing to hear how very wrong Reagan’s attacks on Medicare were at the time. In 1961, Reagan was a GE spokesperson, known for his conservative politics. When he lashed out at the idea of Medicare, it wasn’t surprising, but it was the message itself that was so bizarre.

According to Reagan, Medicare would lead federal officials to dictate where physicians could practice medicine, and open the door to government control over where Americans were allowed to live. In fact, Reagan warned that if Medicare became law, there was a real possibility that the federal government would control where Americans go and what they do for a living.

In a line that may sound familiar to Sarah Palin fans, Reagan added, “[I]f 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.”

With the benefit of hindsight, we now know these crazy warnings were completely wrong. As Chait put it:

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 conservative predictions about the last social reform are forgotten in the specific, but remembered in the general and applied to the next social reform.

Reagan’s misguided diatribe from 48 years ago also serves as a reminder that we hear the same arguments from conservatives, over and over again, every time real reform is on the table. Republicans, Fox News, and Limbaugh, for example, reflexively shout “socialized medicine” whenever the issue comes up — just as the right has done for 75 years.