Beta Testing Their Product

by digby

This Gallup Poll on SCHIP shows some very interesting data on people's attitudes on health care. If Democrats think this issue is in the bag, they'd better think again. Remember, most people in this country have health care and even if it's inadequate they aren't faced with the problems with the system unless they get sick. And they see no reason to spend money on people who they think should be able to "take care of themselves." In other words, they don't understand the health care crisis.

The Democrats' 2007 reauthorization bill for SCHIP, passed earlier this year with bipartisan support, would have more than doubled the current annual budget for the program by raising eligibility to those earning up to $62,000, and nearly doubling the number of children enrolled by 2012. Bush vetoed the bill on Oct. 3 on the grounds that it would provide encouragement for people to leave private health insurance and effectively be a step toward socialized medicine. His proposed alternative would continue funding at the current income level.

When the funding difference between the Democratic bill and Bush's plan is described to respondents (see precise wording of the question below), a slight majority say they prefer Bush's plan.

And the brainwashing has been thorough and relentless:

Americans are also generally sympathetic to Bush's concern about the program leading to socialized medicine. Fifty-five percent say they are very or somewhat concerned that expanding the program would create an incentive for middle-class Americans to drop their private health insurance to enroll in the program. Another 25% say they are not too concerned about this, while only 17% say they are not at all concerned.

There's much to quibble with in the form of the question and the way the numbers are presented. (Gallup even admits as much.) But I doubt this is wholly inaccurate. A great many people in this country believe that the misfortunes that befall others are their own fault but if something bad happens in their own lives it's just bad luck. Perhaps that's human nature. But one of the purposes of the rightwing's assault on reason is to make it impossible to make abstract arguments. And unless you are currently enmeshed in the health care system without insurance or dealing with expensive treatments, this is an abstract issue.

Back in 92 many of us were convinced that the time had come. The Democrats finally controlled the government, the country was barely emerging from an ugly recession, (which throws a lot of previously covered workers into the pool of uninsured) and some races around the country had been fueled from the grassroots on a health care reform platform. The conditions were optimal. But it failed , for many reasons, (including the way it was negotiated and sold) but mostly because the Republicans were able to effectively demagogue the fears of losing what you have as opposed to the Democrats who had to explain a complicated formula for protecting you against something that may not happen.

Throughout this battle it's been inexplicable to me that Junior has held the line on the SCHIP expansion. This one seemed easy, helpful to the struggling Republicans. But it's clear that they are building their argument against universal health care just as the Democrats are building theirs for it. They recognize that the politics of this are so important that it's even worth sacrificing a few seats for if that's what it takes. (They're unlikely to win back the majority anyway, and they know it.)

From Bill Kristol's famous 1994 memo:

A simple, green-eyeshade criticism of the president’s health care plan--on the grounds that it’s numbers don’t add up (they don’t), or that it costs too much (it does), or that it will kill jobs and disrupt the economy (it will)--is fine as far as it goes, but it is not enough. Such opposition can only win concessions on the way to a "least bad" compromise.

But passage of the Clinton health care plan in any form would be disastrous. It would guarantee an unprecedented federal intrusion into the American economy. Its success would signal the rebirth of centralized welfare-state policy at the very moment that such policy is being perceived as a failure in other areas. And, not least, it would destroy the present breadth and quality of the American health care system, the world’s finest.

The stakes are much higher now. The Republicans have been shown to be almost supernaturally incompetent at actual governance and the country is looking to the Democrats for answers. In 1994, the conservative movement was peaking. On the politics, it is even more important to Republicans defeat the Democrats on this issue than it was then. They are strategizing now for that battle. (I presume that the Democrats are too, but their task is going to be --- as always --- more difficult because of the differences I outlines above.)

I'm hopeful that the public is tired of the rightwing's nasty, selfish tone and are going to turn, for emotional reasons as much as anything, to a more hopeful, optimistic view that problems can be solved and the future can be better. I'm not holding my breath. This is an ugly time.

Update: Well, hell. Here's a new poll done by NPR, the Kaiser Foundation and the Harvard School of Public health that shows much stronger support for SCHIP and much less support for the idea that it's a step toward "socialized medicine." I sincerely hope that this is a more accurate reflection of where the country is. I stand by my belief that the Republicans believe that it is imperative for their own political health to defeat health care reform. I also think they may be right in thinking that failure to enact it will be extremely harmful to Democrats as well. In other words, this is a do or die issue for the Democrats. They need to get it done or risk putting a final nail in the coffin of the citizenry's extremely fragile belief in government. But it isn't going to be as easy politically as we may think here in the blogopsheric bubble. There's a lot of ejumakitin' to do.