The other day, David Bernstein argued that there’s been an “important tipping point” where many national media figures have come to understand that “in the Romney campaign, they are dealing with something unlike the normal spin and hyperbole.” Bernstein suggested they are realizing Romney has crossed into groundbreaking levels of dishonesty.
I wish I were as optimistic. I’d argue that much of the national media is still treating Romney’s nonstop distortions, dissembling, and outright lying as par for the course, as business as usual.
Here’s a test case: The debate over Medicare — and Romney’s embrace of the Paul Ryan plan — is about to dominate the conversation. Romney is moving to get ahead of the story by accusing Obama of being the one who would “end Medicare as we know it.” Here’s the Romney campaign’s statement this morning:
“There are two proposals on the table for addressing the nation’s entitlement crisis. Mitt Romney — along with a bipartisan group of leaders — has offered a solution that would introduce competition and choice into Medicare, control costs, and strengthen the program for future generations. President Obama has cut $500 billion from Medicare to fund Obamacare and created an unaccountable board with rationing power — all while America’s debt is spiraling out of control and we continue to run trillion-dollar deficits.
“If President Obama’s plan is to end Medicare as we know it, he should say so. If he has another plan, he should have the courage to put it forward.”
The claim that Romney supports a solution favored by a “bipartisan group of leaders” is a reference to the plan authored by Ryan and Dem Senator Ron Wyden. The idea that this represents “bipartisan” suppport is laughable. But this type of claim is made on both sides, so put it aside.
More interesting is the assertion that Obama has “cut $500 billion from Medicare” and created an “unaccountable board with rationing power” even as the deficit is “spiraling out of control.” That’s a reference to Obamacare’s efforts to curb spending with $500 billion in savings that are actually wrung from health care providers, not Medicare beneficiaries. That “unaccountable board,” meanwhile, is a reference to the Independent Payment Advisory Board, which is designed to make recommendations for reducing Medicare costs, and explicitly cannot recommend rationing.
Get the trick here? The Romney campaign is accusing Obama of slashing Medicare, and hence “ending Medicare as we know it,” while simultaneously accusing him of failing to curb entitlement spending in ways that pose grave danger to the nation’s finances. This, even as Romney has endorsed a plan that would quasi-voucherize Medicare and end the program as we know it.
This is all about muddying the waters in advance of a debate that could cut badly against Romney. The GOP primary forced him to embrace Ryancare; Dems are going to hammer him over it. So the Romney camp is trying to get out front by blurring lines and sowing confusion over who actually is defending traditional Medicare and who would end the program’s fundamental mission as we know it. The question is whether this, too, will be treated as just part of the game.