January 31 2011
Ignoring Public Opinion -- Especially on Health Care! -- is Political Quicksand
From the Democratic pollsters who called for President Obama to step down after one term, comes another contentious -- but smart -- article. On Friday, Patrick Cadell and Doug Schoen wrote in Politico that Obamacare is “unpopular among a majority of the American public.”
The authors go even farther to compare the split in public opinion over this issue as critical as the schism created by the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, which not only paved the way for the Civil War, but also became the foundation for the creation of the Republican Party and the modern, two-party system.
While their historical analogy is a strong one, it’s hard to dispute their evidence that public opinion has turned against the health care law:
A poll released Tuesday by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health shows the law remains unpopular — with 50 percent of respondents viewing it unfavorably, up 9 percentage points from the last survey.
The health care law is at its “lowest level of popularity ever,” said Jake Tapper of ABC News, citing a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll. Rasmussen Reports, which has measured support for repeal since the bill passed, continues to find more than 50 percent of respondents in favor of repeal.
Of course, none of this should come as a surprise. Prior to the vote last March, I wrote continuously about the public’s opposition to Obamacare (see here, here, here, and here) and that the administration and Democrats in Congress were thumbing their nose at representative government.
Now that public opposition to the health care law is mounting, the more important story is why. At it’s core, Cadell and Schoen suggest, “Its passage was anti-democratic.” They continue:
The problem is that the American people object to the bill as a whole; the way it was passed; and what they perceive to be its effect on the size, scope and cost of government.
They hit the nail on the head here though:
Many commentators labeled last week’s vote for repeal as symbolic. They argue that repeal would either fail in the Senate or be vetoed by President Barack Obama.
That attitude reflects the political class’s inability to understand the will and the attitudes of the American people. Regardless of the outcome, this action set the stage for health care to be a decisive issue in 2012.
I couldn’t have said it better. The biggest problem for Democrats in November and looking ahead to 2012 is their unwillingness to consider what’s behind these low poll numbers. Shortly after the midterm elections, on an appearance on Fox News Sunday, David Axelrod suggested that the Democratic losses were a function of a bad economy.
But that was to miss the point entirely. The reason for the Democrat’s loss in November was a function of their unwillingness to listen to the American people.
The authors don’t get it all right, however. Near the end of the article they claim,
Republicans have no alternate plan to address health care, and some are advocating repeal for political purposes. Others say we should repeal it, go back to the status quo and allow free markets to work. But repealing the bill without proposing a real solution is intellectually dishonest and could be as destructive to the Republicans as this undemocratic bill has been to the Democrats.
This is where Cadell and Schoen, like so many other critics on the left, get sloppy and sound uninformed. Let’s not forget that while President Obama closed the doors on the GOP during the debate over health care reform, Republicans and conservatives offered up a menu of potential reforms that wouldn’t require digging up the foundation of our current health care system – changes that would increase competition, allow for greater portability, and give individuals more control over their health care decisions. Coincidentally, these reforms also would have driven down costs and improved care.
Ultimately, Cadell and Schoen are right about one thing: the question of what to do about health care is a serious one for both parties.