The Corner

Seven Lessons of the Obamacare Ignorance Poll

Earthquakes happen. Yesterday’s revelation that 42 percent of Americans don’t even know that Obamacare exists gives pause for reflection. Here are some lessons.

Lesson One: When they say low-information voters, they mean low information voters.

Lesson Two: The press isn’t doing its job. Even today, the New York Times buries its piece on the president’s weak response at yesterday’s press conference to predictions of an Obamacare implementation “train wreck” on page 15. That piece fails to draw on comments by supporters or critics of the president’s remarks. The Washington Post’s tiny article by Sarah Kliff on page twelve doesn’t even mention the president’s scarcely credible press-conference response. Instead, Kliff’s piece touts a streamlined new Obamacare application form, essentially echoing the administration’s own talking points while reporting only praise for this alleged bureaucratic coup. The sensational poll findings on the public’s continuing ignorance of Obamacare’s existence should have prompted Page One stories on the issue, with a focus on Obama’s highly debatable response to the “train wreck” charge, and comments from administration supporters and critics alike. Is the press covering for Obama? Sure, but at this point even digging up buried Obamacare stories is a challenge. No wonder the public’s out of the loop.

Lesson Three: Last year’s election results may be a lot less troubling than Republicans thought. Sure, there are problems, especially with the Millennials. Yet a public that barely even knows that Obamacare exists cannot be viewed as having endorsed it — or its author. Which leads us to . . .

Lesson Four: John McCain’s “celebrity” attack ad may have been the ultimate commentary on the Obama presidency. The public feels good about supporting Obama, and so doesn’t want to be troubled by the unpleasant reality of the president’s actions. It must be dry this year in the land of the Brotherhood, because denial is a 3,000-mile-long river delta that begins to spread just outside the Beltway. All those polls showing the president’s personal popularity higher than the popularity of his policies — not to mention the way his support kept tanking whenever he made speeches about Obamacare — it all makes sense, and it’s still going on. We’ve reelected a president we’re so desperate to like that we’ve made his signature policy accomplishment disappear. Is the claim of press malfeasance incompatible with the notion of a public in denial? Not at all. The public wants to forget about Obamacare, and the press is pleased to oblige.

Lesson Five: There’s an important kernel of truth in this ignorance. Obamacare doesn’t really exist yet. In fact, much of Obama’s first term has yet to happen in any real sense. Obama understands that the public likes its thoroughly idealized idea of him much better than reality. That’s why he postponed full implementation of so many of his policies until after his reelection. At base, this is a deceptive and anti-democratic procedure. The public ought to have voted on the president’s policies as actually experienced. They ended up voting on their image of Obama the celebrity instead, largely because Obama himself gave them little else to go on.

Lesson Six: Obama is still telling pretty lies about Obamacare, claims designed to make it disappear in the public mind. At yesterday’s press conference, Obama said that people who already had health insurance could pretty much ignore Obamacare-implementation issues from here on. In effect, he’s still peddling the claim that if you like your current insurance, you can keep it. Although rate shock, employer-based-insurance dumping, and changed hiring practices may soon push millions of policy holders into the exchanges, Obama pretends that there’s nothing to see here. And contrary to the president’s claims at the presser, the exchanges are far from the only parts of Obamacare that remain to be implemented. There’s also the infamous IPAB health-care rationing panel (and yes, despite denials, it’s effectively a rationing board). Implementation of IPAB is being held back by Obama for political reasons. The administration’s failure to move on IPAB is anther reason why Obama himself can be blamed for the public’s ignorance of the law. Timely nominations for this controversial panel would have put Obamacare in the news every day, and every day the news would have been bad. So even though IPAB is law, why shouldn’t Obama just pretend it doesn’t exist?

Lesson Seven: Obama is vulnerable, very vulnerable. When something the public doesn’t know exists — and doesn’t want to know exists — actually turns out to exist, people are going to get angry. Even the president now calls it Obamacare. Good luck with that.

Stanley Kurtz — Stanley Kurtz is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

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