With GOP Rep. Paul Ryan seemingly ready to offer a proposal that would privatize or voucherize or otherwise end Medicare as we know it, E.J. Dionne and Paul Krugman ask today whether Obama will seize this as an opportunity — a chance to make a larger case in defense of the progressive vision of governance, and more broadly, of the New Deal’s legacy.

I don’t know if Obama will engage this argument or not, but it turns out that there’s some polling out there from last fall that suggests it might be a political winner for Obama to stage a major confrontation over Medicare.

Last September, the National Journal and Pew Research published a poll that found that roughly one third of Americans support “replacing the government-run Medicare system with a program that provides vouchers for private health insurance.” Even more tellingly, fewer than half of Republicans favored this idea.

As Steve Benen notes, polls have shown strong general support for maintaining Medicare or even increasing funding for it. But the September National Journal poll goes that one better — it finds strong opposition specifically to the basic idea that seems to underlie Ryan’s proposal. In fairness to Ryan, we don’t have the details of his proposal yet, and naturally, we don’t have any public opinion data about it.

But it seems reasonable to point to the National Journal poll and speculate that Americans — Republicans included — are overwhelmingly hostile to undermining Medicare’s basic means of fulfilling its mission, as we’ve understood it for decades.

On Fox News yesterday, Ryan acknowledged that his proposal will give Dems “things to use against us in the next election,” but only if Dems “demagogue us.” Actually, Dems don’t have to “demagogue” this proposal in order to turn the public against it.

Indeed, if Obama and Dems do want to engage on what may prove the most consequential argument over the proper role of government since the New Deal — which is, admittedly, a very big if — you probably couldn’t ask for a better jumping off point for this great debate than the proposal Ryan is expected to unveil this week.