Politifact Lie of the Year: The Democrat MediScare Campaign


Fact-checking website PolitiFact has announced their “Lie of the Year” for 2011, and liberal bloggers are very unhappy, because the winning whopper was “Republicans voted to end Medicare.”  Since this is the first time PolitiFact readers and editors chose different Lie of the Year winners, and the last couple of winners (Republicans describing ObamaCare as a “government takeover of healthcare” and Sarah Palin’s “death panels” comment) were very agreeable to the Left, PolitiFact’s Bill Adair felt obliged to go into great detail about why this year’s choice was made:

We discussed each of the other finalists and concluded that while clearly false, they failed to be as significant as the Medicare claim, which ignored the fact that people 55 and older would remain on traditional Medicare and that even with the privatized system under Ryan’s bill, younger people would still receive a guarantee of care.

And more than any of our other finalists, the Medicare claim had staying power. The Democrats launched it just four days after the House vote in April and then repeated it many times all year. It was the latest chapter in a long-running “Mediscare” strategy to frighten senior citizens that their benefits are in jeopardy if they support Republicans.

The winner of the reader poll for Lie of the Year 2011, incidentally, was “the Republican claim that ‘zero jobs’ were created by the economic stimulus.”  This is not true, and not necessary for criticizing the horrific waste of money in the stimulus bill, so it’s a fair enough choice.  PolitiFact’s editors felt it wasn’t as significant, pervasive, or enduring as the MediScare campaign.

The interesting thing about this year’s PolitiFact row is how stubbornly liberals are clinging to their illusions.  This MediScare thing is very important to them.  The Hill has some examples:

“It seems foolish to have to parse the meaning of the word ‘end,’ but if there’s a program, and it’s replaced with a different program, proponents brought an end to the original program,” liberal blogger Steve Benen wrote at the Washington Monthly. “That’s what the verb means.”

Well, yes, except that Ryan’s plan, like most other significant reform plans for entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare, originally kept the old program running for all current recipients.  A dramatically overhauled system would be presented for new enrollees.  (It has since been revised to preserve a traditional Medicare option for anyone who wants it.)  There is no logical way to justify this as “ending” Medicare, even if you’re willing to allow that all significant reforms of all programs are tantamount to “ending” them, because the old program remains in place for current beneficiaries. 

If someone is still collecting old-style Medicare in 2014, then Medicare did not “end” in 2013.  It would be more defensible to speak of a plan like Ryan’s as seeking to “phase the old program out,” but that obviously didn’t have the visceral impact the Left was looking for.  Also, a phase-out is gradual – which implies the ability to modify or cancel it, should it fail to meet expectations – while abruptly “ending” a program conjures images of sailing over the edge of a cliff.  There’s no doubt of what the Democrats were trying to accomplish by misusing the term “ending,” since as PolitiFact points out, they were running ads that showed Paul Ryan literally throwing old people off a cliff.

“The very definition of the Medicare program is a national health insurance program for seniors which House Republicans would abolish under their budget,” the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said in an earlier rebuttal of Politifact’s analysis of the Ryan plan.

So the DCCC really wants to rest on the idea that introducing elements of privatization and choice into a government program means “abolishing” it?  Run as far and fast from that world-view as you can, Americans.  No happy endings can be found where it leads.  Also, I wonder if the Democrats would be equally eager to speak of introducing government money and control into any given situation as “abolishing” the private sphere.

Self-appointed “fact checkers” are often criticized for tendentious hair-splitting and mischaracterizing predictions as “lies.”  The latter might have applied here if the Democrat attack against Paul Ryan had been a prediction that his proposal would eventually lead to the end of MediCare, because his reforms would prove unsustainable.  One might disagree with that prognosis, but it wouldn’t be a “lie.” 

That’s not what the Democrats did, and PolitiFact is correct to note both the substance of the falsehood and its political significance.  It’s possible to strenuously disagree with dramatic reform proposals without lying about them, and the unseemly urge to terrify seniors with the “MediScare” campaign is another grim road sign on the path to a future where every alternative to ruin is cloaked with terrifying phantasms, and our grandchildren wonder how a nation that spoke so often of “progress” and “solutions” could be simultaneously paralyzed with fear.