Jonathan Chait

Health Care Repeal And Populist Delusions

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Orrin Hatch had an item for National Review yesterday entitled "Listening To The People By Repealing Obamacare," which emphasized over and over how totally the public supports repeal:

But the White House didn’t listen. They moved full speed ahead, using every budget gimmick and procedural trick in the book to jam their bill through both the House and the Senate despite growing opposition from all across America. ...

But the American people did not forget how they were slighted in this debate. Last November, they sent a clear message at voting booths across the country that they would not be ignored and that they wanted Congress to overturn Obamacare.

Unlike the Democratic majority before them, House Republicans listened to the overwhelming message of their constituents and two weeks ago voted to repeal this monstrosity of a law. ...

Yet, those on the other side who have themselves acknowledged that this law should be fixed remain determined to ignore the will of the people, and they blocked our efforts to repeal this fundamentally flawed law and start over....

I rest easy knowing that I am standing with my fellow Utahns and the people of this country, whose distrust of Obamacare grows as they learn more about it.

To borrow from Justice Scalia, the American people despise Obamacare because the American people love democracy and the American people are not fools. They know that this law was enacted in a totally partisan manner, and over the loud opposition of a majority of Americans.

The sheer, monotonous repetition of this simple point has been echoed by Republicans, who have chanted about the "overwhelming" support for repeal for well over a year. In reality, the public never opposed health care reform by anything like "overwhelming" margins. And since the debate has turned from passing the bill to repealing it, opinion is even more closely divided. (Indeed, the last two polls show outright opposition to repeal.)

I understand the propaganda benefits of claiming the high ground of public opinion. I do wonder, though, if Republicans are actually falling into the trap of believing their own bullshit. The party blundered into the government shutdown fiasco under Clinton in large part because its propaganda apparatus asserted that the people agreed with them so loudly and repeatedly that Republicans came to believe it.

Consider this new poll from the GOP firm McLaughlin & Associates. It asks:

Regarding the health care law passed by Congress, should Congress repeal it and replace it with a bill that focuses on lowering health care costs by taking a few modest steps like allowing the purchase of insurance across state lines to improve competition, ensure that individuals with pre-existing conditions have access to affordable insurance, and curbing lawsuits against doctors, would you prefer that alternative bill or the law which Congress recently passed?

Any pollster understands that a question like this is an attempt to demonstrate public support, not a legitimate attempt to measure public opinion. It stacks the deck by contrasting the law passed by "Congress" (which is way less popular than President Obama) with a hypothetical alternative that contains entirely popular features with no negative ones. Now, I am quite confident that Republicans will never produce a plan like, this in part because crafting such a plan would be impossible. But that isn't my point. My point is that Republicans did not, in fact, vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it with this fantasy plan. It voted to repeal it, full stop.

So, of course, that polling question bears no relationship to the actual vote. And McLaughlin does not poll on the question of should we repeal the health care bill and then hopefully create some possible alternative somewhere down the line. I suspect the firm realizes full well that such a poll would not create the desired results.

It's possible that the poll was designed to (very subtly) warn Republicans not to allow themselves to be painted as opposing reform. I doubt many Republicans have picked up on the subtlety. Jeffrey Anderson of the Weekly Standard cites the poll as yet more evidence that the repeal vote constituted "listening to the American people and giving them what they want."

The most straightforward interpretation of this is that Republicans are actually drinking their own Kool-aid. It's bizarre. Of all the things for a party to delude itself over, public opinion seems like the worst.

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