Smile Politely

Poll mania

It’s hard to know what Americans believe anymore.  I suppose that’s because I’m an optimist.

Polls continue to come out on health care reform. They make very little sense to me, because I would like to believe that Americans are not as susceptible to propaganda and outright lying as we obviously are.  Why I continue to believe this, after the last administration managed to scam Americans into an ill-advised, wasteful and immoral war, I do not know.  I guess because, once again, I’m an optimist.

One recent poll shows public support for health care reform at an anemic 53%.  It also shows Independents are now against health care reform 49% to 46%. Nonetheless, another poll shows 62% of Americans are in favor of a public insurance option. Other polls show that 39% of people think the government should stay out of Medicare and 45% believe death panels are part of the plan. Also, 62% of Americans disapprove of the way Republicans are handling health care reform. In other words, the insanity that many people are assigning to Americans can now be identified as schizophrenia. That or the polls are just confirming the old adage that there are lies, damn lies, and statistics.

What everyone can apparently agree on is that Obama and the Democrats have botched the job of health care reform so far. And they have. There are a number of theories on why:

  • There are too many conservative Blue Dog Democrats to pass it.
  • They tried to compromise with Republicans, who are only interested in setting the whole thing on fire.
  • Too many Democrats (and most of the Republicans) are beholden to Big Pharma.
  • They haven’t done a good job of explaining the bill, and allowed the craziness of death panels and communism to dominate the debate.
  • They remain the same spineless group they’ve been over the last decade, unwilling to stand up to for their own principles when the going gets rough.

One thing we should resist is conflating unhappiness with the Democrats with unhappiness with health care reform in general. After all, the plan has lost support because people on the left do not want a plan without a public insurance option and people on the right are being told the plan will kill your grandma and turn us into Nazis or Communists, whichever scares you the most.

Nonetheless, pundits are saying the Democrats are toast in the next election. That may or may not be true, but I don’t understand how anyone who wants health care reform would ever vote for Republicans (or for Greens, which results in the same thing). The answer to health care reform is to elect more Democrats with values and spines, not Republicans who will kill it outright.

What I can’t get a read on is why they are losing Independents on health care reform.  Although I suppose it depends on what we mean by “Independent.”  It makes sense to lose “Independents” who are right of the Republican Party and apt to believe in things like Kenyan birth certificates. The problem is that political stances don’t really exist on a single line from liberal to conservative. There’s a 3-dimensional globe of issues to contend with, and it’s our winner-take-all political system that squashes them onto a 2-dimensional line of liberal vs. conservative. Nonetheless, some get squashed down into the middle, and for them, I wonder what has their ire up.

It may be the potential cost of the plan, and who you believe has a better handle on it. Cost estimates range from spare lemon drops and rainbows (Democrats) to all your precious heirlooms, which the government will forcibly take by smashing in your front door (Republicans).

One thing the polling does indicate is that Americans want health care reform as long as it doesn’t cost them anything.  This shouldn’t be surprising, and sounds reasonable, until we consider how health care is currently rationed.  As I mentioned in last week’s column, we ration health care in this country to people with decent jobs. So, if you suddenly lose your health, it’s likely you’ll lose your job, and then your health care too.  Most bankruptcies in this country are the result of health care crisis and most of them have health insurance. This is not how a modern, civilized nation should handle the health care of its citizens.

Health care reform will cost something more than lemon drops and less than family heirlooms. But it’s worth doing because there is a common good to extending health care to everyone. Yes, I know phrases like “the common good” are now the equivalent of Stalinism and “socialism” the equivalent of Nazism. But maybe it’s time we rehabilitated phrases like “the common good.” Maybe language reform will need to be part of health care reform. What’s one more Gordian knot to untie? I’m an optimist, after all.



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