Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Inescapable Unpopularity of ObamaCare

However it turns out, today's Massachusetts Senate election makes it official: ObamaCare is extraordinarily unpopular. Viewed from one angle, that's not very surprising. The bill that emerged from the Senate is a confection of ingredients that have left a bad taste in recent elections (e.g., Medicare cuts, taxes on Cadillac plans) or take some getting used to (e.g., the individual mandate requiring people to deal with a private insurer). Thus far, a lot of voters aren't ready to trust the liberal politicians telling them that these elements will blend together into something appetizing and nourishing. Maybe they'll come around if it gets enacted and displays its virtues.

By and large, liberals don't seem to be processing the information before their eyes. We've spent the last six months denying the authenticity of spontaneous-looking expressions of opposition to "the government takeover of health care." The Tea Parties were AstroTurf, the town hall meetings were a forum commandeered by a paranoid fringe, the steadily declining approval for ObamaCare measured in reputable polls was an artifact of coordinated Republican disinformation.

Even at this late date, when a Massachusetts Republican is favored to take Ted Kennedy's Senate seat by promising to be the 41st vote against ObamaCare, liberals are telling themselves fairy tales. Here, for example, is the normally levelheaded Kevin Drum: "Liberals can win elections, but they still have trouble winning the narrative. There are dozens of plausible explanations for this, but the noise machine still seems like the biggest one to me. There's simply no liberal counterpart to Drudge and Fox and Rush. . ." Does anyone really believe that Obama, with the entire executive branch, huge congressional majorities and the television networks at his disposal, and with the more-than-able assistance of Krugman et al., hasn't been able to get the word out about healthcare?

Liberals view popular expressions of anti-statist sentiment as if they're mirages. On desert journeys, we see lakes that disappear when we approach them. We aren't taken in by the sight of them because we're armed with a reliable theory of optics that tells us when our eyes are likely to lead us astray.

Pursuing the analogy, it's worth asking whether liberals have any theory at their disposal that justifies their disinclination to credit recurring appearances of ObamaCare's unpopularity. The only candidate I can think of is a theory that I've been reciting to myself mindlessly for years. It holds that there must be a latent majority in favor of using government to socialize the cost of, and the risks associated with, health care, because every other advanced capitalist democracy has enacted policies to that end. It hasn't happened here because our political system affords organized interests too many opportunities to obstruct public decisions favored by hard-to-organize democratic majorities. So when I hear dire warnings about "socialized medicine" or "government control of one-sixth of the economy" I presume that's just Big Pharma or those guys with bow ties who subscribe to National Review talking. Normal people don't care about such things, do they?

Watching Martha Coakley interrupt her campaign in its closing days to shake down Washington fat cats and health-industry lobbyists while Scott Brown was shaking hands outside Fenway Park, you have to wonder: could it be that the mirages are real and the theory that explains them away is false?

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