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

The point of Ronald Reagan’s stirring 1961 audio was to warn that providing government health coverage for the elderly would, if adopted, lead America to  become a socialist hellhole.

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.

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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.

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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.”