If we’re giving out A’s for effort…

Following up on an item from the weekend, I had a few concerns about Joe Nocera’s latest NYT column, urging Democrats to take the House Republican plan to end Medicare seriously. To refresh readers’ memory, here’s the gist of Nocera’s pitch:

[E]ven if Ryan’s solution is wrongheaded, he’s right that Medicare is headed for trouble. It might not be in nine years, but as health care costs continue to rise uncontrollably, and as baby boomers continue to age, Medicare will gobble up an ever larger percentage of the federal budget. […]

To put it another way, while the Democratic Party might be well served in trying to use the Ryan plan to bury their political opponents, the country itself is not. The debate we need is not about whether Medicare should be reformed, but how. […]

It would be nice if we could treat the Ryan plan not as an object of derision but as a launching off point for a serious debate.

I made the case that this is an awful mistake. The GOP privatization plan, as shaped by Paul Ryan, is a cruel and unnecessary fraud. It can’t serve as a “launching off point for a serious debate” since the proposal’s numbers don’t even add up.

But Nocera’s broader message — at least Ryan is trying to address a problem — seems popular with a wide variety of pundits. If we’re willing to look past the part where the Republican scheme is a substantive joke, the argument goes, we might able to give Ryan credit for making an effort.

I think this is absurd for a variety of reasons, but I have one follow-up question for those who actually think this way: where were you in 2009 and 2010?

Reader N.M. emailed over the weekend to note that Nocera gave Ryan credit because “at least he’s facing the problem.” N.M. added, “Now it seems to me that the Affordable Care Act was a pretty serious shot at ‘facing the problem.'”

Good point. All of the pundits who are inclined to praise Ryan for recognizing a problem and crafting a proposal should, one hopes, have been at least as generous with Democrats during the fight over health care reform. After all, Dems saw a major problem that threatened the nation’s long-term finances. Sensible people on both sides of the aisle agreed that a significant reform package was a necessity, and Democrats presented a credible, serious solution. Indeed, specifically when it comes to Medicare’s financial health, the Affordable Care Act not only reduces the deficit, but also extends the life of the Medicare system by nearly a decade.

Republicans, meanwhile, refused to negotiate, refused to offer a viable alternative, and refused to engage in a serious debate.

Where were the pundits praising Democrats for their courage? Where were the “Meet the Press” roundtable discussions chastising Republicans for engaging in scare tactics?

If memory serves, the only things talking heads wanted to talk about were polls and process.

When we talk about much of the political discourse being “wired” for Republicans, this is part of the larger indictment.