GOP Hasn't Changed Their Tune Since Ronald Reagan Entered Politics

[ Posted Thursday, February 16th, 2023 – 16:05 UTC ]

I'm going to end this column today with an excerpt from the archives, but I have to explain why I'm re-running it first. Because recently I have been sent into howls of laughter at the new Republican complaint: "How could you possibly accuse us of attacking Social Security and Medicare?!? What an absurd notion!" Not just peals of laughter, but also a Shakespearean-class eyeroll as well: The party doth protest too much, methinks.

Republicans, apparently, think the American public has forgotten the last 60-90 years. You know -- the time period when the GOP was downright proud of attacking first Social Security and then Medicare and Medicaid as some sort of communist plot to kill American freedom. And no, as you'll see, that is not an exaggeration or any sort of hyperbole. They really said this stuff on a regular basis, back when Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid were all being debated by American politicians.

They aren't quite as hysterical about it these days, they're more apt to scream: "Socialism! Everybody run!" at newly-proposed programs from Democrats. But they have indeed been trying to "reform" Social Security and Medicare for the entire time that I have been alive. Their most recent attack on Social Security was to try to "privatize" it all. That, thankfully, went over like a lead balloon. For Medicare and Social Security, they want to hike the retirement age and/or cut benefits.

Republicans are trying to distract everyone with their vaporous complaints about what exactly President Joe Biden has been accusing them of. Biden, in his recent State Of The Union speech, accurately said that there was a Republican agenda out there that proposed "sunsetting" Social Security and Medicare. This is true -- Senator Rick Scott did indeed propose sunsetting not just these programs but all federal laws, in order to force future Congresses to renew them every five years (or, more to the point, not renew them). Since Scott ran the effort to get Republicans elected to the Senate and since neither the national party nor Mitch McConnell put out any more-official Republican agenda, Biden's accusation was accurate.

Their protestations that most Republicans don't actually support Scott's plan and it wouldn't pass a Democratic Senate anyway are quibbling over parliamentary details. Because they will not admit what they are for when they speak of "reforming" these safety net programs. Which, as I said, they've been doing for almost a century now.

The whining from the GOP over being falsely accused of wanting to gut Social Security and Medicare should be met with only one response from Democrats: "Boo-freakin'-hoo!" It's not like Republicans themselves are overly scrupulous of what they accuse Democrats of wanting to do, after all. Look at how effectively they tried to smear the entire Democratic Party with wanting to "defund the police," for just one example. Or pretty much any time they spurt out: "Socialist!"

Which brings me back to my column from the archives. I wrote this initially as a "Friday Talking Points" column, way back in 2009 (I ran it as an archive column in 2013, as well). In it, the Obamacare program was what was currently being discussed (and whether to add a "public option" to it or not).

What follows is just the Talking Points section, with the rest of the Friday column edited out. This was what launched the political career of Ronald Reagan, back in 1961. The original link in this excerpt which points to the actual audio seems to require signing in now, so here is an updated link to a newer YouTube version that is freely accessible, if you'd like to listen to it (it's only a little over 11 minutes long).

This is the easy answer to all the Republican pearl-clutching over being accused of wanting to gut the safety net. Because: "You all have been trying to do this since Ronald Reagan first entered politics!" is the best and most appropriate answer to all their protestations, methinks.


First published June 26, 2009

A while back, a valuable piece of "opposition research" was leaked from the GOP's anti-healthcare-reform camp, in the form of a document written by Frank Luntz (see FTP 76).

But now there's an even more recent release of another GOP opinion survey/talking points list, which Democrats fighting for healthcare would do well to study.

Normally, this would provide plenty of fodder for our own talking points. But this week I'm going to do something a little different instead. Because I'd like to highlight the fact that virtually every argument (and then some) the Republicans are making against "socialized medicine" is exactly the same as the arguments they made forty-eight years ago. By none other than Ronald Reagan, who cut an album at the behest of the American Medical Association, in what turned out to be his initial foray into the world of politics.

The album, with the catchy title Ronald Reagan speaks out against Socialized Medicine, was an early example of what is today called "astroturf" -- a fake grassroots effort bankrolled by a deep-pocket lobbying group. The album was sent to "Woman's [sic] Auxiliaries" of the AMA (doctors' wives -- this was 1961, after all), in an effort called "Operation Coffeecup." The doctors' wives were supposed to brew up a pot of coffee and call all their friends over to listen to the Reagan record, which exhorted them all to write to their members of Congress in opposition to what became known as Medicare. This is, once again, how Reagan got started in politics. The entire story (in exhaustive detail) is a fascinating one.

This album got a little attention last year when Sarah Palin quoted from it (or tried to, she just had to add the odd "back in the day" to Reagan's words, being Sarah Palin) during the Vice Presidential Debate. You can watch a "mashup" of Palin and Reagan to hear the differences.

But to truly bask in the red-baiting glory that was the early 1960s, you really need to listen to all ten minutes of Reagan speaking.

Because he paints a pretty horrific picture of the future of America under Medicare. A future, it should be noted, that simply has not come to pass. Which uses exactly the same threats that are being used against the "public plan" option today by its opponents -- essentially that private medicine will disappear, and that all we will be left with is socialized medicine. Well, OK, to be fair, using the word "socialism" back then had more of a punch to it, which led Reagan to use scare tactics which would be laughable today, but his main script is still in use, if a bit toned down for the modern audience.

So, for today's talking points, I offer up Ronald Reagan from 1961. To turn any of these into a Democratic talking point for use today, all you have to do is preface each with a statement like "You know, in 1961 Ronald Reagan said the following about the future of America under Medicare..." or "The last time America improved its healthcare system by enacting Medicare, the same scare tactics were used by opponents. I'd like to quote what Ronald Reagan had to say about what Medicare would do to America, and you can compare these scare tactics to the ones being used today..." or similar introductions. Either that, or read a Reagan quote, and then ask in astonishment: "Has this come to pass? No? Then why should we listen to you this time?"

Without further ado, we turn the entire rest of the talking points over to none other than Ronald Reagan, from Ronald Reagan speaks out against Socialized Medicine.


   It's all a socialist plot

Now back in 1927 an American socialist, Norman Thomas, six times candidate for president on the Socialist Party ticket, said the American people would never vote for socialism. But he said under the name of liberalism the American people would adopt every fragment of the socialist program.


   Beware the humanitarians!

But at the moment I'd like to talk about another way because this threat is with us and at the moment is more imminent. One of the traditional methods of imposing statism or socialism on a people has been by way of medicine. It's very easy to disguise a medical program as a humanitarian project.


   OK, Ronnie, why don't we hold a vote today?

Now, the American people, if you put it to them about socialized medicine and gave them a chance to choose, would unhesitatingly vote against it.


   Those wily socialists...

Now what reason could the other people have for backing a bill which says we insist on compulsory health insurance for senior citizens on a basis of age alone regardless of whether they are worth millions of dollars, whether they have an income, whether they're protected by their own insurance, whether they have savings. I think we could be excused for believing that... this was simply an excuse to bring about what they wanted all the time: socialized medicine.


   Government will dictate to doctors

The doctor begins to lose freedom.... First you decide that the doctor can have so many patients. They are equally divided among the various doctors by the government. But then doctors aren't equally divided geographically. So a doctor decides he wants to practice in one town and the government has to say to him, you can't live in that town. They already have enough doctors. You have to go someplace else. And from here it's only a short step to dictating where he will go.


   Government will dictate to YOUR STRAPPING YOUNG SONS!!

All of us can see what happens once you establish the precedent that the government can determine a man's working place and his working methods, determine his employment. From here it's a short step to all the rest of socialism, to determining his pay. And pretty soon your son won't decide, when he's in school, where he will go or what he will do for a living. He will wait for the government to tell him where he will go to work and what he will do.


   Oh, the humanity! Freedom dies in America!!

Write those letters now, call your friends and tell them to write. If you don't, this program, I promise you, will pass just as surely as the sun will come up tomorrow. And behind it will come other federal programs that will invade every area of freedom as we have known it in this country, until, one day, as Norman Thomas said, we will awake to find that we have socialism. And if you don't do this and if I don't do it, one of these days you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children, and our children's children, what it once was like in America when men were free.


-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


One Comment on “GOP Hasn't Changed Their Tune Since Ronald Reagan Entered Politics”

  1. [1] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    And, the name of that long-lasting tune is the Republican Cult of Economic Failure.

    Why, oh why, doesn't that phrase stick!?

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