05/25/2011 11:36 am ET Updated Jul 25, 2011

Will GOP Ever Learn? - Americans Love Medicare

Last night Democrat Kathy Hochul upset Republican Jane Corwin in the blood red New York 26th Congressional District special election -- largely because of Corwin's support for the House Republican plan to end Medicare.

Her victory comes on the heels of a month during which Republicans have been battered for their vote to end Medicare at town halls across America and polls that show their plan is radioactive.

Maybe last night's election will be the alarm that awakens the Republican establishment from their dream-like fantasy that -- as much as the right hates Medicare -- the American people don't agree.

Memo to Republicans: snap out of it! Americans love Medicare and there is nothing you're going to do to change that.

Of course, the Republican right has hated Medicare since it was first passed in 1965.

At that time Ronald Reagan, who was a spokesman for the AMA, railed against Medicare as the harbinger of socialism in the United States.

Thirty years later, Newt Gingrich waxed eloquent about the Republican plan to allow Medicare to "wither on the vine."

And just this Spring, Congressman Paul Ryan managed to convince all but four Republicans in the House to vote for a plan to end Medicare and to put seniors back at the mercy of private insurance companies -- this time with a plan that provided partial "premium support". You can call that whatever you like -- maybe "partial care" or "coupon care" -- but it's not Medicare. Really, what were they thinking?

The thing is that Republicans can't seem to remember that every time they grab the third rail of opposition to Medicare they are very nearly electrocuted.

You'd think they'd remember that after they had scored an overwhelming victory against the Democrats and Bill Clinton in 1994, it was the battle between Newt Gingrich and Clinton over cuts to Medicare that turned the political tide and helped assure Clinton's re-election in 1996. Democrats accused Gingrich of wanting to cut Medicare to give tax breaks to the rich. Sound familiar?

Well, Newt Gingrich himself apparently did remember, when he called the Ryan plan "right wing social engineering" -- only to be sent off by the party's right wing ideologues, with his tail between his legs like a dog that chewed up his master's favorite shoe.

You'd think the Republicans would remember the damage that was done by the 1996 Democratic spot that showed Republican Presidential candidate Bob Dole making a speech to conservatives where he bragged: "I was there fighting the fight, voting against Medicare."

You'd think they would remember that just a few short months ago, their own ads blatantly, falsely and effectively pandered to the public's love affair with Medicare by claiming that the health care reform bill had "cut Medicare."

They are like Dr. Strangelove in the famous 1960's movie. The Doctor -- a German former scientist -- had an irrepressible tick. No matter how hard he tried he could not help periodically snapping out a Nazi salute. The right wing of the Republican Party can't help themselves when it comes to trying to eliminate Medicare. To them, the basic idea of Medicare is an abomination.

Basically this is a question of values. They don't believe that we're all in this together. They believe that we're all in this alone -- that you're on your own, buddy. They don't believe that government is the name we give for the things we choose to do together. In other words, they believe -- like their ideological mentor author Ayn Rand -- in a society where the strong dominate everyone else - in essence a society based on social Darwinism. And they positively reject the notion that our top priority should be to create a society where everyone can achieve their full potential -- a society with shared prosperity a strong middle class.

To them it just doesn't compute that Medicare is the most efficient system to deliver health insurance -- and that people like the idea that they are guaranteed coverage of their health care needs in their senior years. They simply dismiss the fact that Medicare spends -- depending upon how you count it - from 3% to 6% of total outlay on administrative costs and private insurers spend from 26% to 30%. I guess when the facts don't conform to your pre-conceived ideological view, it's just easier to dismiss the facts.

Medicare is a "fact on the ground" that demonstrates that all of their theorizing about how big corporations always do things more efficiently than government is a fairy tale.

That's why initiates in the cult of right wing orthodoxy are made to take a blood oath to destroy Medicare and Social Security.

But Medicare is an example of the political axiom that once something is a "fact on the ground" it is very hard to destroy. It's one thing to prevent people from getting the things they aspire to. It is much harder to force them to give up something they love and already have. That's why the right is desperate to undo the Affordable Health Care Act before its provisions themselves become "facts on the ground" too. When they do, everyday Americans will like what they see. And they will see that just as Medicare was not, as the right warned, the beginning of the Soviet conquest of America - heath care reform will not bring "death panels" to seniors' bedsides.

In the meantime, yesterday's defeat in the New York 26th District, the shellacking they are taking at town meetings, and the fusillade of angry calls to Republican offices have begun to cause panic in the Republican ranks. The Empire struck back last fall. The progressive counter-offensive has begun.

Robert Creamer is a long-time political organizer and strategist, and author of the book: Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win, available on He is a partner in the firm Democracy Partners. Follow him on Twitter @rbcreamer.