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Reagan warning about Medicare: S-word scare tactic goes way back

Feel free to read this post (before all your freedom disappears). But you’re also free to not read it, and none of my typing will be worth your time compared to the time you should spend with the YouTube audio at the bottom.

It looks like a video, but it’s just audio, of actor Ronald Reagan, in 1961, before he had ever run for any office other than union president, but after he had converted from enthusiastic New Deal liberal and not long before he started making the transition from acting (and union leader) to politics and then later, after the time of this video, ran successfully for governor of California and then president (three times for president, actually, counting first one, his failed 1976 challenge to Gerald Ford).

The point of newly conservative Reagan’s stirring 1961 audio was to warn America that the growing movement to provide government health coverage for the elderly (which became Medicare four years later) would, if adopted, be a vital step in America’s descent from freedom to socialism. The audio is 10 minutes long. Skip to the bottom of this post if you know all this but don’t leave without listening to it. It’s interesting.

The point of asking you to take those 10 minutes is to listen to Reagan warn against the horrors that Medicare portended is to underscore the point of a column I wrote a week ago, under the headline “Expect to see the S-word beaten to a pulp by Election Day 2020.”

The “S-word” is “socialism,” and the reference was to the obvious intent of the current incumbent and the Republican attack machine to warn against the socialism that will destroy all your cherished freedoms if the Democrats win the next election and ensure that your grandchildren will grow up not knowing what the word “freedom” ever meant.

The Reagan audio warns that if the government provides medical care to the elderly (that’s what Medicare does), the barrier between freedom and socialism will be shattered. I won’t say any more about Reagan’s pretty likable, charming and convincing 1961 warning.

And I’m not here to argue that it’s crazy to say that Medicare is socialized health care for old people, or that Medicaid is socialized health care for poor people, or that many liberal Democrats favor what they cleverly call “Medicare for All” because they think it would be better to offer socialized health care to all Americans rather than continue to be the only major wealthy nation in which a large portion of the population lacks health insurance.

All of those would be perhaps-borderline-rational arguments for today’s righties to make, except for the fact that those arguments are designed not to persuade but to activate the deep American fear about anything that can reasonably be called a form (there are many forms) of “socialism.” And many Americans have been programmed to believe that anything that can be described by the S-word is, basically, life in Russia, which sucks.

Same point I made last week, only now I can offer a pretty great example of young, handsome, all-American Reagan (he gave one of his greatest performances as the tragically-dying-young football star the “Gipper” in “Knute Rockne; All-American”) warning that if Medicare were adopted, America would become a socialist hellhole and freedom would disappear.

Maybe he was right. I don’t think so. I don’t recall Reagan running for president on a platform to do away with Medicare (although Democrats often benefit from arguing that that’s what will happen if Republicans could really get their way),

I do think, as the YouTube audio demonstrates pretty powerfully, the Republican right has been playing this any-new-government-subsidized-benefits-pave-the-path-to-Socialist-hell-and-the-end-of-freedom card for decades and they are obviously gearing up to bet the 2020 election on it.

Here’s the YouTube audio, titled “Ronald Reagan Speaks Out Against Socialized Medicine.”

Comments (26)

  1. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 03/07/2019 - 10:09 am.

    Right now, the only people using the word ‘Socialism’ are Republicans.
    Left wing Democrats sometimes talk about Social Democracy; a very different beast (no public ownership of the means of production).
    The last Socialist to run for President was Eugene Debs from 1900 to 1920 — that’s a century ago.

  2. Submitted by Max Hailperin on 03/07/2019 - 11:37 am.

    The association of health insurance (in general) with socialism and other bogeymen goes back long before 1961. On page 209 of the June, 1919, issue of the Journal of the Medical Society of New Jersey (which I happened to be looking at due to an unrelated humorous item about a great uncle of mine), I spotted the following stirring verse, in which Ralph S. Cone warned his fellow physicians against ignoring the peril posed by the introduction of health insurance:

    Do not ignore Health Insurance
    Lest it catch and twist your tails;
    It is German Propaganda,
    From the Fatherland it hails.

    If you want Paternalism,
    Bolshevism and the rest,
    Go and root for Health Insurance
    Or be passive toward the pest.

    If you value your high calling
    And your spot within the sun,
    Stand no nonsense from the Kaiser,
    He would not if he had won.

  3. Submitted by Misty Martin on 03/07/2019 - 11:42 am.


    I will listen to this when I can devote myself entirely to listening to what Ronald Reagan said in his 1961 warning against the path to Socialism by way of healthcare for the elderly (now known as Medicare).

    I just want to thank you again for keeping your readers informed and for being the “voice of reason” in an increasingly maddening world. As one of your avid readers and fans, I just want you to know how much your writing, research and knowledge is appreciated.

  4. Submitted by Phyllis Kahn on 03/07/2019 - 11:52 am.

    I always remember this part of my family history: my fathers first vote was for Eugene Debs, running from jail. he later became a reliable Roosevelt and Truman voter.

  5. Submitted by Patrick Tice on 03/07/2019 - 12:02 pm.

    The S-word that should really give us all pause is “stupid”, as in “stupid people are running the country”. At the top of the heap is Trump, who certainly doesn’t have a clue about what he doesn’t know but is cocksure about everything. He and his enablers, whether they be calculating manipulators like McConnell or clueless sycophants able to make common cause through FOX News and the internet, make it impossible to make policy decisions based on reason and facts. Of course it should be clear to anyone with a brain that the more populous and complex a society becomes, the more likely it becomes that some of its systems will require regulation and management. That may be “socialist”, but it is also the most practical coping mechanism for the times. Yet a significant portion of the GOP cannot accept the fact that we deeply affect each other’s circumstances by our own actions and are so affected by others. It’s as if they want the government of the 18th century.

  6. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 03/07/2019 - 02:15 pm.

    How long will words like “socialism” retain their anathema status-especially with capitalism’s failures affecting individual lives daily?

    Words are relegated to this category simply to be tools to shut down discussions.

  7. Submitted by Chris Scott on 03/07/2019 - 02:20 pm.

    Presidential historian, Michael Beschloss, on his Twitter account will attach photographs of political and historic significance most days. Several months ago, Beschloss attached a photo showing far right demonstrators in Texas during JFK’s visit in November 1963 just a few days prior to the assassination. In the photograph, which includes a person waving a Confederate flag, there’s a person holding a protest sign that reads: “KENNEDY! WHY ARE YOU DEDICATED TO SOCIALISM?”

    The far right nutjobs were a vocal faction of the GOP back in the early 60’s, but still hadn’t yet dominated the party. Today the far right freaks, racists and nutjobs are, for the most part, all that remains of the Republican Party, thus trotting out the ridiculous old trope about socialism isn’t all that surprising.

    Trump cultists, as gullible as they are, will buy into this socialism falsehood completely, but I doubt it’ll sway most other people.

  8. Submitted by Tim Smith on 03/07/2019 - 04:18 pm.

    The far left socialism lovers are dominating their party and begging Republicans to use the S word. Why would R’s not make that comparison? Especially in more moderate districts.

  9. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 03/07/2019 - 04:41 pm.

    But let’s not ignore the power of rhetoric, and repetition. The nut-jobs of the far right–and quite a few GOP Congressmen–are attacking the idea of every one of us having good health care, with subsidy from government if needed, as some dreaded socialist hell. People are meant to be afraid, and to not stop to think. They pound a drumbeat against health care.

    Democrats are going to have to be better at explaining what they mean by not simply Democratic Socialism, but by health care. And what they propose. Control the narrative better.

    Plus: Make Republicans explain who they would let just die without health care. Because at bottom, Republicans really don’t want most non-rich Americans to have access to health care.

  10. Submitted by Curtis Senker on 03/07/2019 - 04:54 pm.

    The ghost of Eugene Debs has lessons valuable to us in the current year.

    In 1897, Debs formed the “Social Democracy” party. In 1898, he went with the Social Democratic Party of America”, and in 1901 he dropped the subterfuge, put his cards on the table, and founded the “Socialist Party of America”.

    Same man; same ideology; same party. Let us not forget.

  11. Submitted by Curtis Senker on 03/07/2019 - 05:07 pm.

    Words are relegated to this category simply to be tools to shut down discussions.

    Well now, someone owes me a fresh cup of coffee.

  12. Submitted by Roy Everson on 03/08/2019 - 10:45 am.

    The Norman Thomas quote by Reagan is telling. Call it socialism, Thomas says, and Americans will reject it. Call it something else and Americans will buy it. Well, it goes to show that a century long effort to demonize a word has been successful, but at what cost? Thwarting democracy. Indeed, socialism is a euphemism for the fruits of democracy

  13. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 03/08/2019 - 11:01 am.

    Fear is the political currency of the Republican Party as constituted under Mr. McConnell, Mr. McCarthy and Mr. Trump. To fall back on a line from one of my all-time favorite Sci-Fi novels, **Dune,** “Fear is the mind-killer.”

    People who are afraid – of foreigners, of immigrants, of “socialists,” of change, of “the ‘other,’” respond to emotional appeals to that fear, and often – witness the Current Occupant of the Oval Office – pursue irrational choices as a result.

    My humble opinion is that Ronald Reagan never stopped being an actor. He just played to a wider audience later in life.

  14. Submitted by Carl Brookins on 03/08/2019 - 11:07 am.

    It fascinates me how distorted these political labels have become. “Communist Russia.” No, after the Tsars were murdered the USSR and today’s Russia are nearest thing to dictatorships. Denmark is a socialist pariah to conservatives. Actually it is a democratic republic, much like us. Venezuela is frequently used as a whipping boy for right wing ideologues. The fact that Chavez made some major mistakes and took down his nation is not the fault of SOCIALISM.
    The US has numerous social programs, such as the social service program, Medicare, Medicaid and the vast Veterans Adminstration. Every day on television I hear “experts” and pundits mis-identifying almost all the political movements this world have ever known. There has never been a true communist nation in the world. I wish some reporter would start educating readers with the truth.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 03/10/2019 - 11:26 am.

      And of course, the Bolsheviks didn’t overthrow the Tsar.
      They sat on the sideline while the more democratic Kerensky regime did the dirty work, and then staged a counter-revolution.

  15. Submitted by Tom Dietsche on 03/09/2019 - 11:08 am.

    If we get Socialized Medicine, the next thing you know there will be Socialized Buses crowding out good Capitalist Cars on all the Socialized Roads and over the Socialized Bridges! Horrors!!

  16. Submitted by Tom Dietsche on 03/09/2019 - 11:13 am.

    And did you catch the throw-away line “your job [man] or your husband’s job [woman]” when he talks about how the government will inevitably have to dictate every part of a doctor’s life. Ah for the good old capitalist days of the 50’s when women stayed at home and raised the kids instead of invading the sanctity of men’s workplace. Another horror!! This whole thing is a hoot, full of straw man arguments and other logical fallacies. Very similar to current-day right-wing radio talk shows and all Fox “news” shows.

  17. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/10/2019 - 11:56 am.

    This is always funny stuff, but I don’t think the Pink Scare has any more legs these days than it did then. People don’t care what you call it, they want it. Trump supporters may terrified by it… until they have it, they they’ll want to lynch anyone who tries to take away.

  18. Submitted by Kevin Johnson on 03/21/2019 - 09:33 am.

    Following is a link to a 2011 article in The Atlantic titled, “What Reagan Did for Hollywood”. It was written by an actor who appreciates the ongoing payments (residuals) he receives for re-broadcast movies and shows he appeared in. These were part of the union settlement Reagan negotiated with the studios when he was president of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) in 1960, just a year before he made the anti-socialism audio Eric Black references. Two other benefits Reagan and his union team successfully negotiated were for medical insurance and a pension. Reagan employed a strike by union members to force the issue. It took Reagan only a year to forget his roots.

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