A treatment for Mediscare?

Tuesday’s special election in New York’s 26th district, where Democrat Kathy Hochul won in part on a classic Mediscare campaign, had Republicans (and the right in general) looking for ways to respond to similar attacks in the 2012 campaign. Karl Rove claims that Mediscare did not sway independents in NY-26 and urges the GOP to do intensive education and outreach on the House’s proposed Medicare reforms. I am all for an education campaign, although it probably would have been easier and more effective during the period from the midterm election through Rep. Paul Ryan’s unveiling of the House GOP budget, before Pres. Obama and the Democrats engaged on the issue.

Now, given the generally toxic polling for the House plan, the Wall Street Journal editorial board is likely correct in arguing the GOP needs to go on offense, both by attacking the Democratic plan to cut Medicare via political rationing and by linking Medicare to the larger issue of exploding debt and economic prosperity. The first point is essential to frame the debate as a choice between Republican reform and the consequences of Democratic denial of the problem. The second point, related to the first, does tend to mitigate opposition to reform. (David Brooks pines for a bipartisan “grand bargain” on entitlements and the budget, but Pres. Obama’s not-a-budget speech clearly announced his intent to reject the approach of the Simpson-Bowles fiscal commission and run for re-election on Mediscare and class warfare.)

Republicans may need to go further. People under attack, when they truly believe they are in the right, tend to believe that simply getting the facts out will solve the problem. However, Mediscare moves people by playing on their emotions. Indeed, the casual voter who is not a political junkie is likely more prone to emotional appeals. Accordingly, if the Dems are going to claim the GOP is harsh to seniors, the GOP ought to at least consider messages showing what the Dems’ approach will do to our children.

For example, consider this 1986 spot funded by W.R. Grace and directed by acclaimed director Ridley Scott. Perhaps the best part of this clip is the reminder that before the Internet, the establishment media cartel blocked airing it:

I like dystopian sci-fi as much or more than the next person, but this approach may be a bit much. The progressive ad showing the GOP literally pushing Grandma off a cliff is so heavy-handed that it may turn off voters in the mushy middle. The same may be true with this vintage ad.

However, a mere six years later, H. Ross Perot became the frontrunner for president (before collapsing under the weight of his paranoia) with a softer version of the same message:

Neither of these ads expressly address Medicare, but it should be a fairly simple matter to tie entitlement spending to the debt problem and the effect it has on our kids. Indeed, a recent web video from Heritage Action for America lands in the ballpark with a light touch:

The GOP and conservative independent expenditure groups ought to at least test versions this approach with focus groups. The Obama campaign may be backing off projections of a billion-dollar warchest for 2012, but they certainly do not plan on spending less than the $750 million mark set in 2008. Unless the economy suddenly improves dramatically, it is a fair bet Obama will be spending those hundreds of millions demonizing the GOP instead of running on his record. Republican candidates will need every effective response to Mediscare they can find.