Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Is Paul Ryan drinking his own bath water on Medicare reform?


I used to work with a very experienced campaign manager, who had a colorful term to describe the phenomenon of politicians or their surrogates actually believing the spin they put on things. This isn't about making a case for something you truly think would be good policy, despite the fact that most don't agree with you. It's about taking a position that has limited support and believing that the majority must be with you simply because you've fallen in love with your own reasoning or, perhaps, because those in closest proximity are always telling you how right you are.

He used to say, "let's be careful not to drink our own bath water."

I thought of this when I read Greg Sargent's post recently about Paul Ryan being in total denial about how unpopular his Medicare plan is. As Ryan said:

Those polls don't describe it well. When the plan is described accurately, it actually polls very well.

Uh, no. That's just not true.

Sargent runs through polls by Bloomberg, CBS, Pew, and The Washington Post, all showing strong opposition to the plan when described as replacing traditional Medicare so that individuals buy their own private insurance with the help of government subsidies. In other words, when the plan was described as exactly what it is, those polled rejected it. To be sure, the language of the question asked varied from poll to poll, but the description of the program was clear and consistent in each.

Only when the question was unclear, as was the case in a New York Times poll, did a plurality support the Ryan plan. Here, when people were asked if they would support a proposal to create "a program in which the government helps seniors purchase private health insurance," they were marginally okay with that idea. But if we aren't talking about replacing the current system, we are not being accurate, which makes the Times response more or less meaningless.

Despite polling that finds privatizing Medicare consistently unpopular, Ryan thinks that Americans would support the idea. Despite proof that when people understand the Republican plan accurately, they reject it, Ryan's thinks the opposite is true.

Honestly, I don't know how to categorize his attitude. Does he truly believe that there is another level of understanding that Americans have not yet realized that will make them supportive of his plan? That something will kick in?

Or does he really know that most don't support his plan but hope that over time he can sway them?

Or does he have such confidence in the fact that he's right about Medicare reform that he has convinced himself that the majority of Americans are already with him? Is he drinking his own bath water?

I actually think Ryan is a true believer, who is only confused by the facts. How else do we explain his comments? Let's just hope he continues to deny reality and that he keeps chugging from the tub he's sitting in and, more importantly, that he has lots of company from fellow Republicans. Now, there's a picture you won't be able to get out of your head for a while.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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