We know today that things are worse. The American Enterprise Institute's Andrew Biggs reminds us that "the joke among entitlement analysts is that the government will eventually turn into a pension plan with an army." Or maybe without the Army...
Remember, the pre-speech buzz suggested that Obama was going to debut a new seriousness about America's looming debt. We were led to expect, if not a full embrace of entitlement reform, at least an honest grapple with the scope of the problem. Instead, he stooped to full "mediscare" scurrilousness. Under the Republican plan, Obama warned darkly, the elderly would have their Medicare withdrawn, to be replaced with "a voucher." Kids with autism and other debilitating diseases would be told "to fend for themselves." Obama basically accused Republicans of sponsoring death panels. And "50 million Americans would have to lose their health insurance in order for us to reduce the deficit."
The president didn't identify those 50 million -- except to suggest to his college audience that it might be "someone's grandmother" -- but he may have been referring to the "uninsured" who would be covered by Obamacare. If so, that's a figure that's been through more changes than Hillary Clinton's hairstyle. In July 2009, the president said there were "47 million uninsured Americans." The following month, he used the figure of 46 million. And in September, he and his administration began to speak of "30 million" uninsured. Is the president now boosting the estimate to 50? None of the numbers, incidentally, was correct. But that wouldn't trouble someone bent not on leading but on misleading.
Last week, Rep. Paul Ryan was asked whether he and the Republicans were making themselves vulnerable to demagogic attacks by taking on entitlement spending directly.
"We are," he replied. "They are going to demagogue us, and it's that demagoguery that has always prevented political leaders in the past from actually trying to fix the problem."
You might have expected Obama to be shamed out of his worst instincts by that prediction. He wasn't.