The 2010 election has been termed the “revolt of the middle class.” But it might more accurately be called the revolt of the retired.
This time, senior citizens went for Republicans by a twenty-one-point margin. The impact of that swing was magnified by the fact that seniors, always pretty reliable midterm voters, were particularly fired up: nearly a quarter of the votes cast were from people over sixty-five.
Why were seniors so furious with the Democrats? The weak economy and the huge deficits didn’t help, but retirees have actually been hit less hard by the financial crisis than other Americans. The real sticking point was health-care reform, which the elderly didn’t like from the start. While the Affordable Care Act was being debated, most seniors opposed it, and even after the law was passed Gallup found that sixty per cent of them thought it was bad.
Misinformation about “death panels” and so on had something to do with seniors’ hostility. But the real reason is that it feels to them as if health-care reform will come at their expense, since the new law will slow the growth in Medicare spending over the next decade. It won’t actually cut current spending but between now and 2019 total Medicare outlays will be half a trillion dollars less than previously projected. The idea that the government might try to restrain Medicare spending was enough to turn seniors against the bill.
Seniors think of Medicare as an “entitlement”—something that they have a right to because they paid for it, via Medicare taxes—and decry the new bill as a giveaway. This is a myth: seniors today get far more out of Medicare than they ever put in, which means that their medical care is paid for by current taxpayers. There’s nothing wrong with this: the U.S. is rich enough so that the elderly shouldn’t have to worry about having health insurance; before Medicare, roughly half of them didn’t have it.
The Democrats’ loss of support among the elderly was more a matter of economic fundamentals than of political framing. If the economy were growing briskly, it’s unlikely that the health-care bill would have become so politically toxic. And, with Republicans now looking to roll back parts of the bill, what happens to health care in the long term may depend a lot on what happens to the economy in the short term.
Source: THE NEW YORKER, November 22, 2010 Read more at: http://www.newyorker.com/talk/financial/2010/11/22/101122ta_talk_surowiecki?printable=true#ixzz169saiDXg