Medicare, Israel hogs U.S. political debate

SMU Political Science Professor Cal Jillson talks about the debates over Medicare and Israel and how they will figure in the 2012 elections.

The Canadian Press

WASHINGTON - American political junkies should get used to hearing about two topics ad nauseam in the 18 months until the 2012 presidential elections: Medicare and Israel.

The two divergent issues are currently the best weapons in the respective arsenals of Democrats and Republicans as they gear up for a vote with an outcome no one can predict, given the wild card at play: the struggling U.S. economy.

The surprise triumph of a Democrat in a Republican stronghold in western New York state earlier this week has given the party renewed hope following the drubbing it received at the hands of Republicans in last year's mid-term elections.

Kathy Hochul won a House of Representatives special election — known in Canada as a byelection, held to replace a retiring legislator — in what was considered a referendum on a controversial Republican proposal to overhaul Medicare, an entitlement program that provides health insurance to Americans 65 and older. . .

Republicans, meanwhile, are buoyed by the outrage that's greeted U.S. President Barack Obama's recent call for Israel to return to pre-1967 borders as the basis for peace talks with the Palestinians. . .

But one longtime political observer says Democrats are packing far more powerful heat in terms of pre-election issues that truly matter to Americans.

"The Democrats have a bazooka and the Republicans have a popgun of some sort," Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, said Wednesday.

"In an American election, Medicare can be a dominant issue. The upstate New York race shows it can actually turn an election. But I can't see an American election being significantly affected by a perception that Obama is insufficiently supportive of Israel." . . .

Jillson, however, maintained that it's not an issue that's important for Main-Street Americans.

"The questions Americans will be asking when they go to the polls in 2012 are, 'Do I have job? Am I comfortable with the way the economy is performing? And what are these guys doing with my Medicare?'" he said.

"Israel, on the other hand, is not front of mind for most Americans, most days. Republicans can keep stirring up a lot of dust, but there's no way to sustain and build concern there the way the Democrats can about Medicare."

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