Facts vs feelings

FACTS VS FEELINGS…. Democrats are, not surprisingly, hammering Republicans over the GOP budget proposal, with most of the attacks focused on the Republican plan to end Medicare and replace it with a privatized voucher system.

The typical Republican response is that Dems are relying on “scare tactics.” It’s not that Democrats are wrong, the argument goes, it’s just that they’re big meanies for telling voters about GOP policies.

The media is echoing the point, and Josh Marshall is right to find it annoying.

I’ve noted several times that when it comes to issues like Medicare and Social Security, establishment journalism is most focused on whether political rhetoric is inflammatory than on whether it might be true. Or put a different way, the details of how key government programs work is of comparatively trivial importance compared to whether the ads a controversy generates are mean. As yet another instance of this, we have the unfortunate example of ABC’s Rick Klein’s report on the new politics of Medicare.

Klein laments that “the ‘adult conversation’ around Medicare reform has taken a detour in the land of adult diapers.” And he goes on to explain that that’s mainly because Democrats are running ads saying either that the Ryan plans “ends” Medicare (which there’s a very strong factual argument that it does) or that it would be deeply damaging to America’s seniors (which math suggests it would). And it’s bad to run ads like that because that’s “Mediscare.”

Part of this is the result of an apparent hostility the establishment tends to bring to entitlement programs in general. A knee-jerk discomfort when Democrats go on the offensive at all may have something to do with this, too.

But it’s important that the establishment realize the difference between demagoguery and ringing an alarm. Demagoguery relies on falsehoods to scare people — it’s about playing on folks’ worst instincts, being divisive in a deceptive sort of way, effectively fooling people into believing something they shouldn’t.

Political rhetoric isn’t “demagoguery” when it’s true. If a political message leads the mainstream to feel scared, it’s not necessarily “scare tactics” if people have good reason to worry.

What Dems are doing are ringing an alarm — Republicans are up to something dangerous, and Democrats want people to know about it. This makes ABC, Politifact, and much of the establishment antsy, and leads to reports that Dems are being overly “political” because (a) they refuse to go along with unnecessary cuts that would hurt seniors; and (b) they’re saying intemperate things like the GOP wants to “end” Medicare.

But what should matter most is the truth, and in this case, the truth is, Republicans want to privatize Medicare out of existence and impose new burdens on those who can’t afford them, all while cutting taxes for the wealthy.

That’s not “Mediscare”; that’s the Republican plan. If pointing this out hurts the GOP’s feelings, that’s a shame, but sometimes a warning bell needs to be rung, even if some find the sound unpleasant.