All politicians love gimmicks. But Republicans seem to be especially fond of them. Maybe it's because, as the party of the business class, the GOP is more attuned to marketing. Then again, the witless wonders who worship Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin and get their news from Glenn Beck need things kept nice and simple.
For a couple of news cycles, it looked as if Republican congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin had developed the latest bright and shiny thing: a plan to substitute vouchers for Medicare. Ever the cheerful free-marketer, Ryan promised that not only would this "reform" offer Granny and Grandpa more "choice," it would also help tame that roaring federal budget deficit, which pessimists fear will one day trigger a very un-rapturous economic apocalypse.
It is not insane to want to address the federal deficit, which now stands at $14 trillion and grows by about $10,000 every three or four seconds. But 30 years of self-delusional and self-destructive government behavior is not going to be remedied overnight — unless Washington is willing to punish the working poor, the struggling middle class, the sick, the aged, and the infirmed.
That, of course, is exactly how the Republican Party plans to proceed. It may be a bit of an exaggeration, but the Ryan plan would effectively put Granny in a wheelchair and then push her off a cliff. No need to convene those pesky death panels. This is market-driven neglect, death by free enterprise. Like an American icon, Granny can fade away in solitude. Proud. But dead.
This proved to be too much, even for the voters of western New York in the 26th congressional district. Despite an unbroken record of voting for nation-wrecking Republicans (including Ronald Reagan, both Bushes, and — most recently — the McCain-Palin ticket), these usually selflessly masochistic, blue-collar voters rejected the GOP theology of coddling the rich and flogging the rest.
The good people of western New York are sending a Democrat to the House of Representatives. And the nation can thank Granny for that.
The New York race was to replace Republican Chris Lee, the "Craigslist Congressman" who advertised his availability for infidelity online with the help of bare-torso photos. His resignation triggered this special election.
Pundits often try to draw all sorts of premature or inappropriate conclusions from special elections, and this one is no different. It would be an exaggeration to say that the Democratic victory presages retaking the House of Representatives in the upcoming national election.
But one lesson does to seem pretty clear: don't try to kill Granny. It makes voters uncomfortable.
Newt Gingrich, the jewelry collector now running for the GOP's presidential nomination, tried to warn his fellow Republicans of the perils of killing Granny. Gingrich said it was "right-wing social engineering." To balance his perspective, Gingrich slammed Barack Obama's health-care reform as "left-wing social engineering." The Tiffany candidate presumably wants to keep Granny in a state of suspended animation, neither dead nor alive, but available to be wheeled out for family functions — with or without her diamonds, as need be.