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The '09 scaremongering award

Ronald Reagan's version of the "death panel" warning

Conservatives in 2009 circulated all kinds of phony scare stories about health care reform - the government wants to kill granny, yetta yetta - but one particular salvo clearly wins top prize. Let's listen in:

"In our country, under our free-enterprise system, we have seen medicine reach the greatest heights that it has in any country in the world. Today, the relationship between patient and doctor in this country is something to be envied any place. The privacy, the care that is given to a person, the right to chose a doctor, the right to go from one doctor to the other.

"But let's also look from the other side...(Under health care reform) the doctor begins to lose freedoms. It's like telling a lie; one leads to another. First you decide the doctor can have so many patients. They are equally divided among the various doctors by the government, but then the doctors are equally divided geographically, so a doctor decides he wants to practice in one town and the government has to say to him he can't live in that town, they already have enough doctors. You have to go some place else. And from here it is only a short step to dictating where he will go.

"This is a freedom that I wonder if any of us has a right to take from any human being....All of us can see what happens once you establish the precedent that the government can determine a man's working place and his working methods, determine his employment. From here it's a short step to all the rest of socialism, to determining his pay - and pretty soon your son won't decide when he's in school, where he will go, or what he will do for a living. He will wait for the government to tell him where he will go to work and what he will do."

Thus spoke Ronald Reagan, Hollywood actor and aspiring conservative politician, way back in 1961.

Care to guess why he was conjuring the looming specter of totalitarianism on our shores? Because Congress was considering a health care reform bill aimed at protecting seniors...the forerunner of the 1965 bill that ultimately became Medicare.

Medicare today is so popular among seniors that one conservative town-hall dolt famously screeched, "Keep your government hands off my Medicare!" (Reagan would spin in his slumber if he'd heard that one.) Indeed, the Kaiser Family Foundation reported, in its national poll this past spring, that 77 percent of Americans perceive Medicare as "very important for the country as a whole."

For some inexplicable reason, various conservative talk-show hosts in 2009 kept replaying Reagan's '61 attack on the Medicare concept, somehow insisting that it was prescient about the threat of socialism (Rush Limbaugh said that the speech gave him "the chills").

But apparently they overlooked Reagan's laughworthy passages about how the government would dictate where doctors shall practice their craft, and how the government would dictate your son's destiny ("when he's in school, where he will go, or what he will do for a living"). I don't recall any such socialist language in the Medicare law, although I suppose Reagan will prove prescient in the weeks ahead if the House and Senate Democratic conferees decide to hoist Stalin's portrait to the rafters and sneak those socialist dictats into the reform bill.

So as we give Reagan the '09 scaremongering award, let us also not forget that he delivered his '61 salvo at the behest of the American Medical Association....which yesterday endorsed the Senate version of health care reform, after earlier endorsing the House version. For some reason, the Gipper's dire predictions don't seem to cut it anymore with the AMA, and I bet it would be hard to find a conservative senior citizen anywhere who rejects his Medicare benefits on principle. And if what Reagan's '61 warnings about your son's freedom of movement sound ludicrous today, just imagine how citizens one generation hence will marvel at the current twaddle about "death panels."