The moral psychology of “Obama gon’ kill yo’ mama”

Medicare spending is rising at an unsustainable rate. Seniors like it. It’s not hard to scare them with the idea that health insurance reform will be the occasion of, at last, reining in Medicare spending. So the right wing, which has been urging “entitlement reform” as a central issue, is organizing mobs to oppose smaller government.

Andy asks a good question: Why do voters swallow, or seem to swallow, the “death board” lie?

But there’s another question: How do the people telling that lie justify it to themselves?

As it happens, I learned the (or at least one) answer to that question just today, in a bloggingheads with Brink Lindsey of Cato. Brink argued both that the lie was, as Andy says, “sorta true,” and that liberals had it coming. Here’s the line of reasoning, as I heard it:

1. Medicare expenditures have been rising very quickly, and the rate of growth is unsustainable.

2. Conservatarians have been screaming about this for years.

3. Liberals have responded to every attempt to rein in Medicare costs by claiming that old people would die as a result.

4. The promise to expand coverage and reduce expenditures can’t be kept without cutting back on unnecessary care, much of which goes to seniors.

5. Therefore, the result of passing any of the plans currently on the table will be to reduce health care available to seniors.

Brink acknowledged the irony that the right was attacking Obama for taking seriously one of the right’s own issues; as Dean Baker has pointed out, we have right-wing mobs protesting against the prospect of smaller government. But Brink (who hasn’t himself made any version of the argument, but who knows the atmosphere from which it emerged) added that there was “lots of bad karma” on both sides of the debate.

The full dialogue will be up at bhtv within a couple of days. No fireworks – Brink is extremely polite – but much fairly sharp disagreement.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: