One of the most ubiquitous Democratic talking points in the wake of Mitt Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan as his running mate is that somehow Romney just “lost” the key swing state of Florida. Apparently, Florida has a lot of senior citizens — and since Democrats argue Paul Ryan’s budget plan “ends Medicare as we know it,” they believe the elderly will naturally rush to the polls to avoid having to spend their final days eating out of dog-food cans.
But not so fast. The natural rejoinder is one everyone will be hearing ad nauseam — Ryan’s plan doesn’t affect anyone currently over 55 years old, and participation in the plan is optional. The premium-support model is one that has routinely had support from Democrats. In fact, Ryan’s own mother is among the seniors currently residing in Florida, and she is a Medicare recipient.
But in terms of crass politics, the Romney/Ryan ticket’s prospects are much better than one might think. It may shock Democrats to realize that “seniors” are not an unthinking, monolithic group. They are more diverse than the elderly people you see in campaign ads, shaking prescription pill bottles at each other and cursing Republicans.
#more#Take, for example, Marco Rubio’s Senate election of 2010. At the time, Paul Ryan had introduced his Roadmap for America’s Future, which contained many identical elements to the House budget that Ryan authored last session. As a candidate, Rubio embraced Ryan’s plan wholeheartedly in March 2010: “I support the Roadmap . . . it is the most serious public-policy proposal that’s out there to deal with what this country is facing right now from a fiscal standpoint.”
Rubio had explained his reasoning a month earlier on MSNBC’s Morning Joe:
I think [Medicare] needs to be reformed. Particularly people of my generation need to understand that there won’t be any Medicare or Social Security if we continue on this path that we are on. The current system that is in place is unsustainable. Now, I do believe that for beneficiaries that are in the system now, we have a contractual relationship. They paid into the system all these years, they’re not in a position now to change course, but I think people of my generation, people that are not in there yet, need to begin to accept the simple facts that Medicare and Social Security is going to look very different for our generation, because it has to.
In fact, Ryan’s Roadmap plan included Social Security reform, which his most recent House budget plan did not. Rubio was willing to suggest that younger workers should be given the option to invest a portion of their Social Security contributions in individual accounts, thereby putting both of Rubio’s hands squarely on two of the third rails of American politics.
And yet, on Election Day in Florida, Rubio emerged with a commanding victory over Charlie Crist and Kendrick Meek. Even with two other viable candidates in the race (Crist pulled 30 percent of the vote, Meek 20 percent), Rubio garnered almost 50 percent of the vote.
In the 2012 presidential election, Ryan will be called every epithet in the Mediscare playbook to give the impression that he wants to throw seniors overboard. But in Florida, they have a special name for Marco Rubio — they call him “senator.”
— Christian Schneider is a columnist for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.