Nate Silver, a brilliant statistical analyst and my favorite liberal blogger had a post earlier today about the proposition that in passing Obamacare, the will of the electorate was breached. He listed a series of series of counter-propositions that I would like to respond to:
1. That Obama and Democratic Congress were democratically elected by very robust majorities on a platform which expliclitly included health-care reform and has since time immemorial.
My counter: In the 2008 exit poll, only 9% of voters selected health care as their most important issue in deciding their vote, and 26% of that group voted for McCain. The economy was by far the most important issue with 63% of voters selecting it. Also keep in mind that the health care platform Obama ran on has significant differences than the bill that was just passed. He criticized Hillary Clinton’s individual mandate and John McCain’s plan to tax Cadillac plans, both of which ended up in the final bill. So, Obama is going to claim a mandate on health care (which is dubious), it should only be a health care plan that is in line with his campaign rhetoric.
2. That the voters have almost immediate recourse in the form of midterm elections that will take place in eight months and a Presidential election that will take place in two years — both of which come before the most substantial parts of the legislation are enacted.
Counter: The provisions that go into effect immediately will be etched in stone. Policy wise, the midterm is useless because Obama will veto any revisions to the health care plan. The Republicans will have a very narrow window in 2013 if they win the 2012 election, but Senate Democrats will use the same filibuster tactics that Republicans tried to. The Republicans aren’t going to pick up 19 Senate seats in the next two cycles.
3. That polls show the overall concepts of reforming the healthcare system and providing for universal coverage were popular at the start of the process and remain reasonably popular now.
Counter: “Reforming the health care system” is so vague, it could mean just about anything. And very few people are against the abstract idea of “universal coverage” (although I am) but once you start talking about how to pay for it, you start losing people.
4. That polls show that the specific details of the Democratic plan are (mostly) popular, and that when a neutral and accurate description of the contents of the bills are read to the respondent, support usually increases to plurality or majority levels.
Counter: I’ve seen those polls but I have some problems with them. They only discuss specific benefits without really addressing how they were going to be paid for, and just because there may be specific popular programs within the bill, that doesn’t mean that they can’t be outweighed by a few very bad things. This bill is worse than the sum of its parts.
5. That substantial elements of the public lack basic knowledge about verifiable facts of the bill, sometimes because of deliberate misrepresentations on the part of the bill’s opponents.
Counter: That’s been overblown; most Americans know there aren’t going to be death panels. The cost and tax increases are what worries them. And the page that Nate links to shows that the most important things, like the cost and the individual mandate, are very unpopular.
6. That history suggests that endeavors of this nature (Medicare, Social Security, Romneycare) generally become popular and are appreciated by the large majority of voters at some point after they become law.
Counter: Of course, entitlements always become more popular because people like the idea of getting some for “free.” But we’re starting to see in California and other states the cost of the entitlement mentality. As more Americans are exposed to it, they’ll turn against it.
7. That a tangible percentage of those who register as opposed to the bill oppose it from the left — probably enough to form a majority with those who support it — and may nevertheless prefer it to the status quo (the more explicitly a poll compares the current proposals with the status quo — see Question 25 here — the more favorable the results tend to be).
Counter: Those numbers are within the margin of error, and if Americans really hate the health care system that much, shouldn’t those numbers be higher?
8. That opinion polling is an inexact science — especially on complex questions like health care — and that it is sometimes conducted by those with perverse incentives.
Counter: Perhaps the weakest of Nate’s points, all the media outlets (filled with people who overwhelmingly voted for Obama) were consistent in their numbers.
9. That maniuplating the opinions of voters in order to affect instantenous public opinion surveys has become a more-or-less explicit goal of all parties in a legislative negotiation, and that the winner of the “game” of manipulating public opinion will often simply be the most skilled craftsman/technician (of course this is also true to some large extent of electoral politics).
Counter: This is the typical Democratic talking point that Republicans can only win through manipulative Lee Atwater/Karl Rove-style tactics. Obama was propelled onto the national stage with his oratory and has the advantage of the biggest bully pulpit in the world. He addressed the American people multiple times on health care, so if the facts were on his side, how did he have such a difficult time convincing the American people? And please don’t tell me Fox News because most Americans don’t watch it enough that it influence their opinions.
10. That the polling is impacted by the fact that the health care bills tend to help a small number of people greatly (the uninsured) while potentially hurting a larger number of people slightly (such as through higher deficits and taxes) — and that these inequities stem not from the “state of nature” but from arbitrary policy decisions made by past U.S. governments that benefited certain groups (such those employed by large businesses) at the expense of others: Is this also a kind of ‘tyranny of the majority’?
Counter: I’m glad that Nate is admitting that this bill doesn’t help most Americans and does in fact raise the deficit. I highly doubt that the lack of health insurance on the account of some people is because others get a deduction for their insurance. Also, I do not believe that people have the right to health insurance at the expense of someone else. That’s not a “tyranny of the majority,” that’s individual liberty.
11. That the groups who would benefit the most from health care reform tend to be politically disenfranchised and may not have their views reflected by polls, especially those of registered or likely voters.
Counter: If they don’t care enough to show up, they don’t have a right to a voice in the process. It’s basically the old cliché of “If you don’t vote, you can’t complain.” Plus, I think it’s presumptuous to pretend to know what people who don’t vote want.
12. That only a relatively small minority of the public wants the Congress to give up on health care reform, but that there are few obvious alternatives to the current proposals that are both politically tenable and fiscally responsible.
Counter: Well why not take a few months to hammer out a bipartisan bill? It’s because Pelosi and Reid want to pass the most expansive bill possible, get it out of the way at least seven months before the election, and didn’t care whether the American people supported it or not.
13. That the United States is a constitutional republic rather than a direct democracy.
Counter: True, and it might benefit the Democrats to know that our constitutional republic is one of limited and enumerated powers.
14. That were the Congress closer to a direct democracy — such as by having proportional representation of Senators, non-gerrymandered congressional districts, and a norm for majority-rules procedures in the Senate — health care reform would have been signed into law months ago and would likely be substantially more liberal and sweeping than the reforms that have in fact been enacted.
A very good substantive point, but no one’s advocating restructuring the Congress, they just want the Congress to be more responsive to the American people.