Friday, May 20, 2011

That Weird Election in New York

There is a special election under way in upstate New York's 26th congressional district that conveys some important things about America right now. This is a heavily Republican area, easily won by John McCain in 2008. But this election is competitive, with the latest polls showing the Democrat, Kathy Hochul, ahead by less than the margin of error. Why? Two reasons. The main one is that the Republicans in the House passed the Ryan budget, which calls for drastic cuts to Medicaid and an end to Medicare as a guaranteed government benefit. By constantly harping on this plan to "end Medicare," Hochul has made the race competitive.

How has Republican Jane Corwin responded? Not, you can be sure, by defending the need to cut health care spending. No, she is running ads accusing the Democrats of cutting Medicare. This is leading to a weird argument that goes something like, "You want to cut Medicare!" "No I don't. You're the one who wants to cut Medicare!" "Oh yeah? "Yeah!"

In the abstract, in Washington, Republicans talk on and on about cutting spending. But the reality is that right now they can't win elections without winning a majority of voters over 65, and older Americans love Medicare. Republicans face a real problem here: their activists and money men are demanding major budget cuts, but the country's real, long-term fiscal problem is how to pay for old people's health care. Paul Ryan's budget solves that problem by drastically limiting the health care old people will get. But old people like having good health care, and they are in no mood to give it up. If Democrats can convince older voters that Republicans want to take their Medicare away, they may abandon the Republicans by the millions and catapult the Democrats back into the Congressional majority they enjoyed for a generation before 1994.

Then there is the second problem for Republican Corwin: Tea Party candidate Jack Davis. Davis has run for office before as both a Democrat and a Republican, and this time his platform consists mainly of being angrier than anyone else. The surge of right-wing anger in America is another real danger for the Republicans, since it may lead to more three-way races or more primaries in which Sharon Angles knock off more mainstream candidates.

Meanwhile, in the department of forgetting: Jack Davis is especially angry about unemployment and lost jobs, which he blames on high taxes. So he is running ads that play on the plight of the unemployed, like this one in which a woman, told that her husband has been laid off, asks, "How can we pay for my chemotherapy without health insurance?" Hey, you know, the President has an answer to that question! It's called the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare. By 2014 it will be providing big subsidies to people in exactly that situation, so they can keep their health insurance. Isn't it cool when problems actually have solutions?

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