Black is white, up is down, and Republicans are defenders of Medicare.
Do you remember political spin? Politicians used to deceive voters by describing their policies in misleading ways. For example, the Bush administration was prone to things like claiming that tax breaks for the wealthy were really all about helping seniors — because extremely rich Americans tend to be quite old.
But Republicans no longer bother with deceptive presentations of facts. Instead, they just flat-out lie.
What do they lie about? Lots of things, from crowd sizes to immigrant crime, from steel plants to the Supreme Court. But right now the most intense, coordinated effort at deception involves health care — an issue where Republicans are lying nonstop about both their own position and that of Democrats.
The true Republican position on health care has been clear and consistent for decades: The party hates, just hates, the idea of government action to make essential health care available to all citizens, regardless of income or medical history.
This hatred very much includes hatred of Medicare. Way back in 1961, Ronald Reagan warned that enacting Medicare would destroy American freedom. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think that happened. Newt Gingrich shut down the government in an attempt to force Bill Clinton to slash Medicare funding. Paul Ryan proposed ending Medicare as we know it and replacing it with inadequate vouchers to be applied to the purchase of private insurance.
And the hatred obviously extends to the Affordable Care Act. Republicans don’t just hate the subsidies that help people buy insurance; they also hate the regulations that prevent insurers from discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions. Indeed, 20 Republican state attorneys general filed a lawsuit trying to eliminate protection for pre-existing conditions, and the Trump administration has declined to oppose the suit, in effect endorsing it.
So if you’re a voter who cares about health care, it shouldn’t be hard to figure out where the parties stand. If you believe that Medicare is a bad thing and the government shouldn’t protect people with pre-existing conditions, vote Republican. If you want to defend Medicare and ensure coverage even for those who have health problems, vote Democrat.
But Republicans have a problem here: The policies they hate, and Democrats love, are extremely popular. Medicare has overwhelming support. So does protection for pre-existing conditions, which is even supported by a large majority of Republicans.
Now, you might imagine that Republicans would respond to the manifest unpopularity of their health care position by, you know, actually changing their position. But that would be hopelessly old-fashioned. As I said, what they’ve chosen to do instead is lie, insisting that black is white and up is down.
Thus Josh Hawley, as Missouri’s attorney general, is part of that lawsuit against Obamacare’s regulation of insurers; but in his campaign for the Senate, he’s posing as a defender of Americans with pre-existing conditions. Dean Heller, running for re-election to the Senate in Nevada, voted for a bill that would have destroyed Obamacare, including all protection for pre-existing conditions; but he’s misrepresenting himself just like Hawley is.
And they aren’t just lying about their own position. They’re also lying about their opponents’. Incredibly, Republicans have spent the years since passage of the A.C.A. accusing Democrats of wanting to destroy Medicare.
All of which brings me to a remarkable op-ed article on health care in USA Today, which was published under Donald Trump’s name this week. (If he actually wrote it, I’ll eat my hairpiece — although, to be fair, it was rambling and incoherent, suggesting he may have played some role in its composition.)
Part of the article claimed that the Trump administration is defending health insurance for Americans with pre-existing conditions, when the reality is that it has tried to destroy that coverage. But mostly it was an attack on proposals for “Medicare for all,” a slogan that refers to a variety of proposals, from universal single-payer to some form of public option.
And what did “Trump” say Democrats would do? Why, that they would “eviscerate” the current Medicare program. Oh, and that they would turn America into Venezuela. Because that’s what has happened to countries that really do have single-payer, like Canada and Denmark.
Why do Republicans think they can get away with such blatant lies? Partly it’s because they expect their Fox-watching followers to believe anything they’re told.
But it’s also because they can still count on enablers in the mainstream news media. After all, why did USA Today approve this piece? Letting Trump express his opinion is one thing; giving him a platform for blatant lies is another. And as fact-checker Glenn Kessler of The Washington Post put it, “Almost every sentence contained a misleading statement or a falsehood.” Even the president of the United States isn’t entitled to his own facts.
So will the G.O.P.’s Big Lie on health care work? We’ll find out in a few weeks.
Paul Krugman has been an Opinion columnist since 2000 and is also a Distinguished Professor at the City University of New York Graduate Center. He won the 2008 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for his work on international trade and economic geography. @PaulKrugman