I’m grateful for the thoughtful, open-minded liberals who read my work and take the time to challenge their views—and mine—on various topics. This post is not about them.
But it’s one of the most frequently recurring themes of liberal commentary on Obamacare: all of the smart people, Harvard professors, etc., support the new health care law; and the only people who oppose it are idiots, or demagogic liars who rant and rave about “death panels.”
Julie Rovner of NPR has put out the latest piece on this topic. While charitably suggesting that myths about Obamacare “have at least some basis in truth,” opponents of the law remain “still a little confused about what it does and doesn’t do.” She lists a series of “outlandish” but “popular myths about the law,” such as: Obamacare requires people on government insurance to be implanted with a microchip; the law creates a new private army for President Obama; the law dictates what you can and can’t eat; and the law requires hospitals to fire obese employees.
Hardy-har-har. Those kooky conservatives. Let’s all have a laugh at their expense.
It’s reassuring to think that the reason people disagree with you is because they’re mental. This is, indeed, an ancient theme of liberal politics, at least as old as the Victorian age, when John Stuart Mill said, “although it is not true that all conservatives are stupid people, it is true that most stupid people are conservative.” In the 20th century, Lionel Trilling did Mill one better, describing conservatism as “irritable mental gestures which seek to resemble ideas.”
What’s funny about stories like Rovner’s is that they ignore all of the myths that supporters of the law believe. Like, for example, all of the people who flooded the phone lines of insurers and doctors’ offices, asking “Where do we get the free Obama care, and how do I sign up for that?”
How about the fact that, according to a Kaiser poll, 46 percent of Americans believe that the law will be “very or somewhat successful” in “reducing the total amount the country spends on health care,” and that 51 percent believe that it will “reduce the amount the average American has to pay for health care and health insurance”? Or, how about all of the commentators and reporters who believe (or claim to believe) that PPACA will reduce the budget deficit?
Apparently, hundreds of millions of Americans haven’t yet received the latest PowerPoint presentation from Families USA, advising Democrats against “claiming ‘the law will reduce costs and deficit.’”
Then there are the people who believe that insurers are absurdly profitable (their 3-6% profit margins rank them among the worst American industries); those who believe that taxpayer-funded health care is “free”; etc. etc.
One has to take all of these polls with a grain of salt. After all, 34 percent of Americans believe in UFOs. Another poll once showed that 29 percent of black New Yorkers believed that AIDS was “deliberately created in a laboratory in order to infect black people.”
Liberals do themselves a disservice by promulgating these comforting delusions about the stupidity of conservatives. Politically, it prevents them from recognizing the unpopularity of Obamacare. Most importantly, it prevents them from recognizing well-founded criticisms that could have led to better policy.
– Avik Roy is an equity research analyst at Monness, Crespi, Hardt & Co., and blogs on health-care policy at The Apothecary.