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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Get Back To You Later On That, Teddy

Noam Scheiber at The New Republic’s &c blog posted a less-than-friendly comment today on the political value of Teddy Kennedy’s big speech yesterday on the future of the party. He focused on Kennedy’s rhetoric on Social Security. I don’t personally have a big problem with that, and moreover, have gotten used to just ignoring all the shadow-boxing in Democratic speeches aimed at the non-existent internal enemy who’s telling Democrats to “move to the right” or “surrender” or whatever.
The problem I have with Kennedy’s suggested message for Democrats is his full-throated advocacy of dealing with America’s health care crisis by just expanding Medicare to cover everybody.
Given Medicare’s many problems, making it universal is probably the least appealing, and by far the most expensive, way to expand coverage. This idea (which Dick Gephardt promoted for a while in the ’90s under the exciting label of “Medicare Part C”) has all the flaws of a single-payer system without any of its virtues, other than a bogus “simplicity.”
Beyond the dubious merits of the idea, there’s a bit of a message discipline problem here. One of the arguments that most Democrats are using in opposing Bush’s Social Security plan is that the retirement program that’s truly in crisis and in need of immediate reform is Medicare, whose long-term cost spiral is frightening, and whose solvency problem is immediate, not remote. So here’s the White-Haired Lion of Democratic Senators arguing that Medicare is actually the solution to all our problems, if we just make it immeasurably larger.
That dog truly won’t hunt, and Ted Kennedy should not expend his well-earned political capital on it.

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