The Campaign Spot

Health Care Reform ‘Did Not Produce Even a Point Rise in the President’s Approval Rating.’

This bit of news is fascinating, if only because it hews to what one side predicted, and the other did not: “A new Democracy Corps survey finds the passage of health care reform ‘did not produce even a point rise in the president’s approval rating or affection for the Democratic Congress… Virtually every key tracking measure in April’s poll has remained unchanged, including the Democrats’ continued weakness on handling of the economy. Both parties are equally reviled, reflected in their lowest ratings in history, while voters want to punish those in power — for the partisan bickering, bailing out the undeserving, government spending, the deficit, and the endless gridlock over health care while people struggled to survive the jobs crisis.’”

So why were Democrats so convinced that passing the health care would help themselves and Obama? Bill Clinton, who would presumably know  a thing or two about health care, the presidency, polls and popularity, boldly declared “the minute health care reform passed, President Obama’s approval ratings would go up 10 points.”

It’s time to return to the concept of the Howell Raines Populist Fallacy, first popularized by once and future blogger, and Senate candidate Mickey Kaus:

I don’t want to commit–or rather, by predicting Kerry’s quick demise, I’ve already committed–what a Slate colleague calls the Howell Raines Fallacy, the assumption that the great and good American people, in their wisdom, will inevitably come to agree with you (or, in Raines’ case, the New York Times editorial page). It’s an easy fallacy for a Democrat to slide into–and on the issue I spent most time on, welfare reform, it wasn’t a fallacy at all. (Over generations, voters never liked the old welfare system, and they were right.) But of course voters make mistakes all the time…

Another definition from Kaus: “the Howell Raines Populist Fallacy, which assumes that the great and good American people are always right (i.e. on the NYT’s side).”

Grasping that the American people didn’t love health care reform, didn’t want health care reform, and in fact a rather sizable chunk passionately opposed health care reform would have forced Democrats to rethink too many fundamental components of their worldview: the reliability, efficiency, and overall commitment to qualiity within the bureaucracies of the federal government; the inherent evil, or at least suspicion, of insurance companies and the private sector as a whole; the economic costs and benefits of a system that is friendly to trial lawyers and malpractice suits; the shift in public opinion away from abortion on demand and strong opposition to public financing of abortion, and more.

In a way, Democrats had to pass it, even knowing that it greatly endangered their House (and for all we know, Senate) majorities; if they looked at their own proposal and concluded it more harm than good, why on earth would the country need them?

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