Clinton Socks GOP In Its Glass Jaw

09.06.12 12:45 PM ET

In the arena in Charlotte, former president Clinton detonated the H-bomb of the 2012 campaign: the Medicaid issue.

Republicans have promised to hold harmless from Medicare changes everyone under age 55, assuring high-voting senior citizens that they have nothing to fear from Republican budget plans. But while Medicare is left alone until 2023, Medicaid is immediately subject to very large cuts. Many of us may think of Medicaid as above all a program for the poor. It is also, however, increasingly the way in which America pays for nursing home care -- and indeed nursing care is the fastest-growing part of Medicaid.

Very large and immediate Medicaid cuts draw a large early question mark over the future of nursing care -- not just for those now under 55, but for the current elderly.

Clinton seized that fact, and hammered it to maximum effect. He is now collecting accolades for a powerful speech. They are deserved. But it's also true that he was firing in a target-rich environment. The decision to base the Republican campaign on the Ryan plan was deeply optional. The election could have been fought on job-creation, not deficit reduction. The deficit target to be closed could have been smaller had it not been joined to a big cut in the top rate of income tax.

Yes, Clinton hit hard. But it wasn't Clinton who decided that Republicans would lead with their jaw.