Paul Jacob

For all the zany goings-on up and down his pant leg during orations by President Obama, Chris Matthews’s political vision can still sometimes be acute.

Matthews is the liberal host of MSNBC’s “Hardball with Chris Matthews.” A partisan Democrat, he has run for political office, worked for four different Democratic congressmen and written speeches for President Jimmy Carter. After his political stint, Matthews spent more than a decade as a reporter and liberal columnist before becoming a TV talking head.

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Last week, talking to David Corn of Mother Jones (and no doubt several viewers from across the country), Matthews crystallized the political debate raging in America today:

The problem is that we don’t think in terms of what would the country be like if we didn’t have Medicare for our parents as they get very old — in their eighties, for example, when they’re still alive, and they need health care, a lot of it. And they don’t have any source of income. They’re not working every morning. They’re not making a paycheck. What would it be like in this country? Calcutta? Poor people all over the place? Old people lying in the streets? I mean, we don’t think about what it would be if we didn’t have health care, if we didn’t have Social Security for people at the age of 65, if we didn’t have unemployment compensation, if we didn’t have a progressive income tax. There’s a lot of things we don’t think about. And the right-wing just pounds and pounds away at this idealistic notion of a cowboy country, everybody self-reliant. I think the progressives, for all their power on the blogosphere, have not done a positive case for the advantages of some kind of a social state.

So let’s think in precisely the terms Matthews suggests. Before Medicare was instituted, were elderly folks “lying in the streets?” Were there “poor people all over the place?”

Simple answer? “No.”

Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.