Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Americans Hate Health Care Bills, Love Reform

In other words, they have no clue about what's in the legislation:

Washington (CNN) – Although the overall health care reform bills passed by the House of Representatives and the Senate are unpopular, many of the provisions in the existing bills are extremely popular, even among Republicans, according to a new national poll.

A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Wednesday also indicates that only a quarter of the public want Congress to stop all work on health care, with nearly three quarters saying lawmakers should pass some kind of reform.

Full results [PDF]

Twenty-five percent of people questioned in the poll say Congress should pass legislation similar to the bills passed by both chambers, with 48 percent saying lawmakers should work on an entirely new bill and a quarter saying Congress should stop all work on health care reform.

"Many provisions of those bills are popular, particularly restrictions on health insurance companies," says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. "Roughly 6 in 10 would like a bill that prevents insurers from dropping people who become seriously ill or denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions. Seven in 10 favor requiring large and mid-sized companies to provide health insurance to their employees. Those proposals are popular among Republicans as well as Independents and Democrats. A cap on medical malpractice awards – something on the GOP's wish list that is not in the current legislation – is also popular."
Which inexorably leads us to the painfully obvious question: are Americans really this stupid? Bill O'Reilly made a similar query on his talk show last night citing that several on the "hard left" (you know, radical leftists like Time magazine columnist Joe Klein and Libertarian comedian Bill Maher) have lately intimated as much in light of popular disapproval concerning the current health care reform debate, which his guest answered by making the same point as the above poll: while Americans say that they are opposed to the health care legislation currently wending it's way through congress, they simultaneously and overwhelmingly support the majority of the provisions contained therein.

Now of course O'Reilly dismissed this answer (his guest, Dr. Mark Lamont Hill, had either quoted this poll or one very similar) by saying that polls can be twisted to say anything (meaning refuting O'Reilly's preconceived notions about the world, which is one of the reasons I find the man so entertaining) but he's also a populist blowhard who needs to pander to his aged right-wing audience (that's another reason) so his behaviour in this respect is understandable. Since I don't have to worry about my own opinions affecting my ratings share I'll answer the question of American stupidity thusly: yeah, Americans are kind of stupid, but not really. This line of thought immediately brings to my mind a quote from the movie Men in Black, when Will Smith's character asks Tommy Lee Jones' character why the government doesn't just tell the people about the existence of extraterrestrial life on Earth:
Edwards: Why the big secret? People are smart. They can handle it.
Kay: A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it. Fifteen hundred years ago everybody knew the Earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was flat, and fifteen minutes ago, you knew that humans were alone on this planet. Imagine what you'll know tomorrow.
In that same vein, I don't think that individual Americans are particularly stupid but the American people certainly seem to behave that way much of the time. This is the same phenomenon Thomas Frank explored in his 2004 book What's the Matter with Kansas? wherein he lamented that everyday middle-class Americans were of late consistently voting against their own self-interests, mainly due to the fact that the right-wing in this country has the ability to largely shape and control the overarching political narrative (while I obviously begrudge them this fact I also somewhat admire it, although not always on an ethical level). Having written his book at the height of the second Bush administration, Frank focused predominantly on the right's promotion of incendiary social issues such as abortion and gay marriage to drum up support amongst their base but that core message has changed somewhat since then; now the focus of their divisiveness has mainly become the struggling economy.

The reasons for this are two-fold: 1) The American economy is in pretty bad shape right now and history has shown that whenever this is the case the party out of power at the time usually does well at the ballot box, hence the Republicans' current concerted campaign of obstructionism and rooting for President Obama's economic (and pretty much all other) plans to fail. It's simple: the worse shape America's in, the better their chances of regaining power. A cynical strategy to be sure, but unfortunately also a fairly effective one. And 2) A Republican is no longer in the White House. When George W. Bush became president the fiscal conservatism of the Republican party dried up faster than roadkill on a hot Texas freeway and it coincidentally took them just over eight years of reckless deregulation and profligate spending to see the error of their ways and suddenly rediscover what they constantly tout as one of their core ideological beliefs. So now Republicans cast every dollar the president spends in his efforts to clean up the economic morass left to him by his predecessor in the damning light of irresponsible waste. In other words, government spending is wildly out of control only when they're the ones not doing the spending. Convenient that.

When you couple this current electoral strategy with their previously mentioned ability to largely control the narrative coming out of Washington (usually by lying more and screaming louder than the spineless and frustratingly ineffective Democrats), it's no wonder that the majority of Americans say they are opposed to legislation that would ensure their access to affordable health care. And ironically the increased transparency of the federal government, facilitated by Obama administration policies coupled with increases in the availability and affordability of personal technology, has contributed to this atmosphere of electoral ignorance. The process of D.C. sausage-making is difficult to watch and even more difficult to understand, so it's a relatively simple affair for the out of power party to demonize legislation with which they disagree by predominantly focusing instead on the ugliness of the process and making sure that this becomes a part of the news cycle, hence the current dissatisfaction with Washington by the American people.

Now I don't particularly fault Americans for their general lack of political awareness. These are tough economic times they find themselves in and most people are busy enough worrying about their jobs and their families and everything else going on in their lives that they can't or won't find the time to educate themselves about the intricacies of the legislative process, especially as they pertain to an issue as unexciting and complicated as health care reform but I do think that Americans could try harder to make the time to do so. If an issue is important enough to be angry about it's important enough to learn about, and if enough Americans made the time in their lives to properly do so I have no doubt that Obama's efforts to reform our broken and largely unsustainable health care system would enjoy a sudden surge in popularity. Again, Americans aren't stupid; they sometimes just need to be reminded of what's in their own best interests, and affordable health care for themselves and their loved ones definitely falls within that category for everyone.


Oso said...

Very good post.I guess being fairly conversant with the political economy, I tend to agree with talk of how stupid the average American is. Occasionally in my increasingly rare rational moments I reflect back on how little I knew about politics or the economy or pretty much everything following 9/11 when I emerged from my coma and began to read and learn about things.

When I'm really objective I can admit to myself that the views I'm so intolerant of now were similar in many respects to my own views of 7 or 8 years ago, but generally I just seem to default back to "these people are idiots".

Maybe that's just human nature.

BTW at pushing 60 I'm skewing your blog towards the O'Reilly demographics, just leftward in my case.

JBW said...

Thanks, Oso. I also think that the current nature of political discussion has become such a toxic discourse that it turns many people away from engaging in politics who might otherwise have gotten involved. Both sides of the aisle are responsible for this, although you can probably guess which one I believe is more to blame.

JoeBama "Truth 101" Kelly said...

Why the Democratic Party doesn't have you on the payroll is another mystery JBW.

JBW said...

I would think that constantly and publicly calling any prospective employer "pussies" would decrease one's chances of being hired, T101. Yet one more bridge burned, in my case.