By David Epstein
It must be tough to be a Republican presidential candidate these days. It used to be that Democrats were hampered by the crazies on the left, while the Republicans were a disciplined machine aiming purely and simply to win elections. Now the opposite is true.
If you want a real shot at the Republican nomination, not only do you have to toe the hard-right line on military issues like the Iraq War and gun control, and assuage the Christian right by pronouncing yourself anti-abortion (even if it means renouncing a political lifetime of taking the opposite position), you have to genuflect to the economic fundamentalists on social issues like health care too.
Rudy Giuliani -- not a dumb guy, which probably makes this all the harder for him -- has addressed the latter issue by taking the neo-Neanderthal line that for the government to take any role whatsoever in health care is "socialized medicine." Which means, one would have to conclude, that he would prefer to roll back such dangerous Commie initiatives as Medicare, Medicaid, and the VA hospital system.
This tactic might just possibly get him enough brownie points to win the Republican nomination, but it has at least two big, big flaws. First, it makes him take positions that are factually incorrect, as in his latest claim that prostate cancer survivor rates are 82% in the US as opposed to 44% in England. This claim has been immediately debunked, both by Krugman in the NYT and Eugene Robinson in the Washington Post. In a shorter campaign these types of lies might not catch up to a candidate, but I predict that by the time this long primary season is over Rudy will regret playing fast and loose with the facts.
Second, and even more fundamentally, as health care costs move from being an abstraction to a front-of-the-brain reality for more and more voters, these fulminations against government playing a role in health care just get weaker and weaker. To put it plainly, if the Republicans get all the votes from Americans who worry about "socialized medicine," and the Democrats get all the votes from Americans who think that health insurance is a basic right and the government should play a major role in supplying it, the Dems would win in a landslide.
So Rudy is lying to defend a losing position in the general election. As I said, it must be tough to be a Republican presidential candidate.