Linda Chavez
The Democrats' victory Tuesday in a special election in New York's 26th Congressional District is being touted as proof that Republicans have overreached on Medicare reform. But the facts are more complicated.

Many analysts considered the victor, Democrat Kathy Hochul, a better candidate than Republican Jane Corwin. Hochul had a longer track record in the district and more connection with voters. Plus, a third-party candidate -- former Democrat and faux tea party representative Jack Davis -- spent millions on his campaign and pulled 9 percent of the vote. But excuses notwithstanding, Republicans should learn a few lessons from their loss.

First, entitlement reform is necessary but politically risky. For years, Social Security and Medicare reform have been the third rail of American politics. Democrats have never once resisted the temptation to demagogue the issue for electoral advantage, and this political season is no different. Democrat campaign commercials showing a Rep. Paul Ryan look-alike dumping grandma over the cliff in her wheelchair show the depths Democrats are willing to stoop in order to scare the elderly into voting against Republicans. The ad would be laughable if it weren't so dangerous.

Agree or disagree with Ryan's proposed deficit reduction plan that would create a new way to provide medical care for the elderly, at least he's offered a real plan, which is more than you can say for the Democrats. Even former President Bill Clinton warned Democrats "not to tippy-toe around" dealing with Medicare, noting "We've got to deal with these things."

Yet, this week, the Democratic leadership in the Senate forced a vote on the Ryan plan -- which lost -- but then offered no plan of their own. This should come as no surprise since the Democrats couldn't manage to pass a budget last year when they controlled both houses of Congress and the White House.

Second, most voters favor cutting government spending -- but only on programs that don't actually affect them. Lots of people believe we can actually solve our problems simply by cutting waste, fraud, and abuse in government programs and ending or reducing foreign aid, which would hardly make a dent in the deficit. And polls consistently show that Americans are against government cuts to education (even though there is little evidence that more money produces higher education achievement), defense, homeland security, border protection or poverty programs, much less Social Security or Medicare. Yet these are the big-money items.

Linda Chavez

Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .

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