James Forsyth

What would FDR do

What would FDR do
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Peggy Noonan has a clever device in her column this week, she imagines what FDR and Nixon would tell their respective parties if they could come back to this earth and advise them. She has FDR offering Obama his take on healthcare, the first major issue on which Obama has ended up on the wrong side of public opinion. FDR points out to Obama that his problem is that if he, Obama, doesn’t get his bill he looks weak but if he does get it, it won’t work. Then he says: 

“But I have an idea, and hear me out. You already have Medicare, a single-payer national health-care system for those 65 and older. Little Harry Truman was the first American to get a Medicare card in 1965, did you know that? LBJ hauled him in for a ceremony. Anyway, Americans like Medicare. So here’s the plan. From here on in, every day, start talking about it: ‘Medicare this, Medicare that, Medicare.’ Get your people in Congress to focus on making the system ‘healthier.’ It’s rife with waste, fraud and abuse, everyone knows that. And there’s the demographic time bomb. Come together in a great show of bipartisan feeling with our Republican friends and announce some serious cost-saving measures that are both legitimate and farsighted. Be Dr. Save the System.

On thorny issues like end-of-life care, put together a bipartisan commission, show you’re open to Republican suggestions. 

“Then, at the end, get your Democratic majorities to make one little change in the program—it’s now open to all. You don’t have to be 65. The uninsured can enroll. Do it in the dead of night if you have to, you’ve got the votes.

“And then, and only because you’ve all made so many institutional and structural changes, you’ll have to give Medicare a new name. I’d suggest ‘The National Health Service.’

“Voilà. You now have the single-payer system you wanted.

“Everybody wins. You get expansion, Republicans get cost control, the system is made more secure, and the public for once isn’t terrified.

Republicans of course will say they won—they defeated a brand new boondoggle nationalized health system. Fine. But people will start referring to the National Health Service every day, and they’ll believe they have one, and they’ll believe you gave it to them. And you can run in ’12 saying you did. That’s what I’d do!”

This idea has real problems, especially in terms of cost, but politically its smart: Medicare isn’t seen as ‘socialized medicine’, even though it is. But I doubt that Obama is yet at the point in his presidency where he is hearing voices from beyond the grave.

Written byJames Forsyth

James Forsyth is Political Editor of the Spectator. He is also a columnist in The Sun.

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