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May 2, 2005

Lemons to Lemonade

The GOP’s strategy on Social Security reform has made me realize that doctors have been missing a chance to magically turn malpractice into good news and grateful patients. First the strategy for doctors, then the same strategy with just a few words changed to describe the GOP’s approach to Social Security reform.

Story 1: Doctor/Patient

Let’s start with a healthy patient. Suppose you, as the doctor, have made some big mistakes and because of it the patient will have to lose the two smallest toes. It’s the only way to prevent further spread of the disease brought about by the irresponsible mistake you made. Fortunately, the toes do not have to be removed right away.

Start telling the patient, with each visit, that you see a potential crisis developing that may mean losing the entire foot, maybe up to the knee. With each visit talk about how the disease appears to be getting worse and that if something isn’t done soon, the results could be catastrophic. Keep escalating the crisis talk. Importantly, make sure it appears to be a systemic problem and not the result of anything you did. The last thing you want is a second opinion (it helps to call other doctors quacks).

On the day of surgery, remove the last two toes, the two most inessential toes, and cure the patient.

Now here’s the tricky part. You have to sell the idea that you saved the day. When the patient wakes up begin exclaiming that because of your remarkable skill you have saved all but two toes, and those weren’t even really needed! Tell them they are the luckiest patient you have seen in some time. It is really helpful if there are nurses and others who are willing to play along and tell the patient how very lucky they are to have had you as their doctor during this crisis.

The patient will be so happy, so grateful that you were able to save all those essential toes, especially the big one. The future looks so much brighter than the one they had imagined. With any luck, the patient will never realize that it was your malpractice that caused the problem in the first place…

Story 2: GOP/Public

Let’s compare this to the GOP’s Social Security story by changing a few words:

Let’s start with a budget surplus. Suppose you, as the GOP, have made some big mistakes and because of it the budget will end up seriously out of balance so cuts to the budget or to programs such as Social Security will be necessary. It’s the only way to prevent further spread of the budget problem brought about by the irresponsible tax and spending decisions the GOP made. Fortunately, the budget problem does not have to be fixed right away.

Start telling the public, with each media appearance, that you see a potential crisis developing that may mean losing the entire Social Security system, and maybe part of Medicare. With each speech talk about how the budget problem appears to be getting worse and that if something isn’t done soon, the results could be catastrophic. Keep escalating the crisis talk. Importantly, make sure it appears to be a systemic problem and not the result of anything you did. The last thing you want is a second opinion (it helps to call the other party obstructionists).

When legislation is passed, reduce benefits for the two highest income classes, and cure the solvency problem.

Now here’s the tricky part. You have to sell the idea that you saved the day. When explaining the proposal begin exclaiming that because of your remarkable skill you only had to cut benefits for two of three income groups, and those weren’t even really needed! Tell them they are the most fortunate poor people the GOP has seen in some time. It is really helpful if there are cheerleader columnists such as John Tierney and news services such as Fox (I think Faux news is more descriptive…) who are willing to play along and tell the public how very lucky they are to have had the GOP in power during this solvency crisis.

The public will be so happy, so grateful that you were able to save benefits for the poor. The future looks so much brighter than the one they had imagined. With any luck, the public will never realize that it was your irresponsible tax and spending policies that caused the problem in the first place...

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