People acquainted with media narratives know that the "adults" and the "grown ups" and the "serious people" are very often the Republicans, especially when we're talking about entitlements. Democrats and their union friends, we're often told, are childish or immature for wanting something–public benefits such as medicare and social security–at no cost. Click here for a funny illustration of that sorry meme.
We have something along these lines in this Steve Chapman column from the Chicago Tribune. The "real world," of course, demands cuts and reforms just like the Republicans want:
After House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., unveiled a plan to overhaul Medicare, Democrats announced that despite its minor flaws, it was a brave and thoughtful attempt to grapple with a serious problem that has been ignored for too long.
Just kidding. They said it was the worst thing they've seen since "Sex and the City 2."
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi accused Ryan of offering "a path to poverty for America's seniors." Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., said Ryan's proposal would not reform Medicare but "deform it." The White House faulted Ryan for "placing a greater burden on seniors."
The chief outrage, in their minds, is his proposal to restructure Medicare for Americans currently younger than 55 while keeping the old version for older folks. Instead of guaranteeing a certain set of benefits regardless of cost, the government would pay a fixed premium so recipients could choose their own packages.
The other meme is the "brave" or "courageous" meme. This one, unfortunately, has even been adopted by Democrats. On the unity of the virtues theory, however, you can't be stupid and courageous, or wrong and courageous.
Back to the point. The "reality" meme usually requires that you show that someone else's plan is unrealistic. You can do that by carefully demonstrating the shortcomings of their views or their presuppositions, or you can do that by misrepresenting them. The second is faster. Here's Chapman again:
I have news for people old enough to be thinking about retirement: Your children may love you, but not enough to be taxed into poverty. Ryan's detractors pretend we can go on enjoying the status quo indefinitely. But it's only a matter of time before we hit a fiscal wall, hard.
There are three basic choices. We can keep on just as we have in the past until the program collapses of its own weight. Or we can restrain costs by letting the federal government ration medical care. Some patients would have to wait months or years for procedures now taken for granted — and some wouldn't get them at all. Death panels, anyone?
"Ryan's detractors" sure seem stupid, don't they? There's a reason they don't have a name–they don't exist. They're hollow men. Whatever you say about the opposition to Ryan, you'll have to admit that they tried to have a discussion about health insurance reform in light of the problems of rising health care costs, an aging population, and, of course, the limitations of the private insurance model. Whatever you say about them, you cannot say that they embraced the status quo indefinitely.
One more thing along these lines. Notice that Chapman considers three options for reforming medicare: (1) do nothing; (2) death panels; (3) Ryan's plan. That's a false trichotomy. It's like a false dichotomy, only you add two unworkable choices rather than just one. Since (1) and (2) are ridiculous, ergo, ipso fatso, (3) is our only realistic option.
A courageous adult conversation about the realities of health care systems in the industrialized world, however, would consider many other empirically tested options. Would it be immature to want that?