At this point in the presidential race, there isn't just one controversy surrounding Medicare; there are two -- and Mitt Romney's campaign hopes one completely obscures the other.
The first is Romney's effort to take the offensive, launching a series of blatantly dishonest -- and common-sense defying -- attacks on President Obama. Consider this ad released this morning.
If there's literally anything accurate in this ad, I can't find it. The spot says, "Some think Obamacare is the same as free healthcare," but no one thinks that. The ad says Obama is "raiding $716 billion from Medicare," but that's simply not true. The ad says the Affordable Care Act is "raising taxes on families making less than $120,000 a year," but that's a lie, too. (This last one is especially amusing, since if Romney thinks it's accurate, it means he raised taxes, too.)
So why bother airing such garbage? In large part because of the second controversy: Romney/Ryan has a plan to end Medicare altogether, replacing it with a voucher scheme, and if voters understand the policy, President Obama is going to win re-election fairly easily. The Republican ticket has to obscure reality, kicking up a dust cloud that makes it seem as if Obama, whom they accuse of supporting socialized medicine, is actually a far-right brute who's trying to undercut Medicare's socialized coverage.
As a result, we're left with an exceedingly odd dynamic: Romney/Ryan wants desperately to talk about Medicare, without making any effort whatsoever to defend their own Medicare plan.
And why not? In part because it's very unpopular, in part because it would cut benefits for current and future retirees, and in part because, as the New York Times reported today, the Romney-Ryan plan would force Medicare into insolvency by the end of their first term.
By any sane standard, this is one of Romney's single most important vulnerabilities, which he's pushing to the forefront, on purpose, because he suspects ignorance can propel him into the White House.