Time to Broaden the Attack on Ryanomics

Let's face it: The Democrats aren't going to win a clear-cut victory in the great Medicare talking-points war they were so looking forward to.

Their basic attack line--the Romney-Ryan plan would take away your Medicare and replace it with an unreliable voucher system--is largely neutralized, for political purposes, by the Republican rejoinder: Our plan won't affect anyone over 54. And the Democratic follow-up--If the voucher system is so great, why were you afraid to implement it sooner than ten years from now?--is too subtle to help much.

Meanwhile, the Republicans' basic attack line--President Obama wants to take money from Medicare and use it for Obamacare--requires a complex rejoinder. (Well, they're not really cuts but restraints on growth, and some of the cuts--I mean restraints on growth--won't affect the level of service, and, anyway, Obamacare itself brings new medical benefits to seniors....) And at this stage of the election, when you're trying to reach the relatively few "low-information" voters who haven't made up their mind, simple has an even bigger advantage over complex than it normally does.

But there's hope for Democrats! Though Republicans are doing a passable job of defending their Medicare turf, the landscape of Ryanomics is vast and diverse and includes much vulnerable terrain.

Consider this single sentence from a New York Times op-ed evisceration of the Ryan budget plan by David Stockman (former director of the Office of Management and Budget in a Republican administration): "Of the $1 trillion in so-called tax expenditures that the plan would attack, the vast majority would come from slashing popular tax breaks for employer-provided health insurance, mortgage interest, 401(k) accounts, state and local taxes, charitable giving and the like..."

I'm not an expert on this stuff, and I haven't looked into the details, but this sounds like a pretty target-rich environment. I mean, deductions for charitable giving includes deductions for money you give your church, synagogue, mosque, Buddhist temple, etc., right? (Is Ryan trying to launch a war on religion?) [See update below.] And, at a time when so many people can barely make ends meet, Ryan wants to raise your effective mortgage payments? And so on...

Pesonally, I wish we could have a serious, sustained, nuanced debate about the big philosophical differences that separate Ryanomics and Obamanomics. (For example, Ryan's Randian attack on America's already meager safety net for the poor stands in stark contrast to the Affordable Care Act's improved access to health care for low-income Americans.) But the closer we get to November, the more wildly implausible such a scenario becomes. It's all about talking points, and the simpler the better. Which means the Democrats need to expand the war on Ryanomics beyond Medicare fast.

[Update, 8/20, 12:35 p.m. A comment by shinynewtoken led me to research Obama's past proposals on the charitable deduction, and it turns out that, for people making over $200,000 a year (or couples making over $250,000), Obama has proposed lowering the cap on the deduction from 35 percent to 28 percent. That would effect very few voters, but, still, it would complicate, perhaps fatally, attempts by the Obama camp to make hay out of this particular Ryan proposal.]

Presented by

Robert Wright is the author of The Evolution of God and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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