In 2008, the Republican attacks on Barack Obama’s association with Bill Ayers failed badly — and it’s clear why. Republicans failed to explain why Obama’s coffee with Ayers, a former member of the Weather Underground, should matter to Americans. Instead, the Republican ticket said that Obama was “palling around with terrorists” and then ran away from the issue when confronted in the debates. Americans knew the name “Bill Ayers,” but they didn’t understand why he should affect their votes.
In 2012, the GOP is making the same mistake on Medicare, a much more serious and divisive issue than Ayers. According to the new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, only 15% of registered voters think Medicare needs a complete overhaul while another 27% want major changes. Combined, only 42% of registered voters see big problems with Medicare. Fifty-four percent want it to be left alone or tweaked slightly.
The GOP has crafted a credible — even bipartisan — solution to the looming Medicare crisis. But the public, at least according to the NBC/WSJ poll, is largely oblivious to that crisis. The drop-dead date on Medicare Part A, the hospital insurance portion of Medicare, is 2024, which in the minds of the American public may very well be just far enough in the future to not worry about. The Romney campaign and GOP members of Congress should have spent the summer months trying to convince the public that Medicare is truly in crisis. If people don’t think the very future of Medicare is at stake, they won’t be willing to support major reforms.
While Republicans are quick to rail against the mainstream media’s liberal bias, they are slow to consider the effects of this bias on the public. They delude themselves into thinking that the swing voter who watches “NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams” and reads The Washington Post will have a sixth sense and believe that all is not as he is being told. Yes, Ronald Reagan said, “If you’re explaining, you’re losing,” but campaigns — especially campaigns that are trying to give the public bitter medicine — must begin with a firm foundation based on a fundamental fact.
Brandon J. Gaylord, the editor-in-chief of HorseRacePolitics.com, is a graduate of George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management. Brandon got his start in politics as an intern in Vice President Richard Cheney’s Office of Political Affairs.