In politics, it's easier to oppose from the sidelines than to run things. The opposition party needn't offer positions and can recklessly throw ideas at the wall just to see what sticks. That's where the Republican Party is now. And, based on the results of the summer, it's not too bad a position to be in. The White House and Congressional Democrats have been forced back on the defensive on health care. Any in-power party trying to explain that "death panels" aren't part of proposed health-care legislation is clearly losing the debate.
All that said, once the opposition party chooses to engage the party in charge on substance, it has to decide whether it's going to stick to its stated principles -- or just try to score political points. Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele stars in an ad offering a Senior Citizens Bill of Rights that pledges the GOP to blocking any attempt to cut Medicare.
The ad is running primarily in -- no surprise -- Florida, America's waiting room.
It fundamentally promises "No Cuts to Medicare to Pay For a New Program." Yet, the week before, Steele agreed that certain cuts might be needed to the program. Previously, he agreed that there must be some consideration of cutting Medicare in order to control broader federal spending. Of course, Republicans have had problems with Medicare for a long time. Bob Dole, when running for president, declared how proud he was in originally voting against the program.
The key issue here is that, by itself, Medicare is in trouble (Steele even admitted in an NPR interview that the program is headed toward bankruptcy). As part of the ever-growing entitlement beast (along with Social Security and Medicaid), it is devouring the federal budget. Some cuts will be necessary down the line. Every politician -- Republican or Democrat -- knows this.
But, it brings more short-term political advantage to go the "No cuts" approach. Heck, the Democrats have done this time and time again against the GOP. But at least they're the party that believes in open-ended entitlements -- without cutting anything.