What the media establishment refuses to understand

It was quite a roundtable on “Meet the Press” yesterday. Viewers got to see a Republican strategist, a conservative pundit, a conservative Democrat, and an ostensibly center-left columnist who thinks that Democrats are big meanies when it comes to Medicare.

It was “Must See TV” for viewers eager to see a soul-crushing discussion.

Consider this exchange between host David Gregory and the Washington Post‘s Ruth Marcus — who, remember, was the only center-left voice on the four-person panel. The topic at hand was the Democratic win in the special election in New York’s 26th district this week.

GREGORY: So, Ruth Marcus, what wins here: bold leadership on Medicare and the argument that the Democrats won’t do something courageous, or the Democrats who say, “Hey, those guys want to take away my Medicare”?

MARCUS: I regret to inform you that I think it’s the latter. And I think when you were asking Senator McConnell if Medicare was the new third rail of American politics, I think the question was wrong in a sense because it’s the old third rail of American politics.

GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

MARCUS: This play has been run time after time. If you go back and look at the quotes from President Clinton back when he needed to win re-election, they sound a lot like the quotes from Democrats today about don’t let those Republicans take away your Medicare. The difference is that the debt is bigger, the deficit is bigger, the gap is bigger, and the situation is more dire. But I think that, sadly, the lesson of New York 26 is “mediscare” works.

The transcript doesn’t reflect this, but viewers saw David Brooks — one of the three conservative voices on the four-person panel — nodding in agreement while Marcus spoke.


It’s exasperating, but it’s worth reemphasizing what too many establishment types simply refuse to understand: Democrats are telling the truth. Indeed, Dems are doing what the media is reluctant to do: offering an accurate assessment of the Republican plan for Medicare. If voters find the GOP proposal frightening, the problem is with the plan, not with Democrats’ rhetoric.

I’m at a loss to understand what, exactly, Ruth Marcus, David Brooks, and their cohorts would have Dems do. Congressional Republicans have a plan to end Medicare and replace it with a privatized voucher scheme. The proposal would not only help rewrite the social contract, it would also shift crushing costs onto the backs of seniors, freeing up money for tax breaks for the wealthy. The plan is needlessly cruel, and any serious evaluation of the GOP’s arithmetic shows that the policy is a fraud.

Which part of this description is false? None of it, but apparently, Democrats just aren’t supposed to mention any of this. One party is allowed to present this agenda, but the other party is expected to sit quietly on their hands.

Once again, it’s important that the establishment recognize 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.

But 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 is ringing an alarm — Republicans are up to something dangerous, and Democrats want people to know about it. The question isn’t why Dems are on the offensive; the question is why the Beltway media finds it offensive.