Erik Larson

Mar 10, 2010

What Obama Inherited

Pollster Scott Rasmussen writing in the WSJ breaks down the problem with ObamaCare , as only a pollster can: 15 consecutive Rasmussen Reports polls over the last four months show that 52-58% of Americans continue to oppose the plan, while only 38-44% are in favor.

Deflating results for Mr. Obama, particularly in light of “repeated and intense sales efforts” by him and by his supporters on the Hill.

But why the negative numbers? Mr. Rasmussen points out that pitching the plan as deficit neutral garners little traction among Americans, who think spending cuts are more important today than deficit reduction. However, the “bigger problem” is that Americans no longer trust official projections, from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) or anywhere else in government. 81% of voters say “it’s likely the plan will end up costing more than projected.” Only 10% report that the official numbers from CBO are “on target.”

So, people are either becoming wise to the farce of “expert” financial predictions, or they’ve become sceptical that politicians who invoke such experts for political purposes are giving them the straight scoop(or the brow-crinkling is shared to some proportion between the two). Either way, it bodes poorly for ObamaCare, and for new program creation tied to spending generally.

This point is worth fleshing out more. Opposition to the health care plan is frequently explained in terms of right of center Americans who are distrustful of big government and “socialized” medicine. But this analysis does not account for the lackluster support from independent voters, who have not aligned with any party, and who presumably try to vote “on the issues” rather than on Republican talking points about the dangers of socialism, and so on. These independents comprise a new kind of voter who, like Republicans and Democrats, tend more and more to be distrustful of the effectiveness of government generally, apparently including the CBO.

It would strain credulity to claim that Mr. Obama, in the span of a few short months in his first term (and in diametric opposition to his “yes we can” campaign message), managed such a wholesale change in our perception of government. This phenomenon must have, in other words, started long before Mr. Obama took office. It’s fair to speculate whether, in fact, it has its roots in the projections and prognostications of prior administrations, notably the Iraq War WMD fiasco in the Bush years, and other glib notions about Republican administrations and fiscal responsibility.

At any rate, the “lies they tell us” brand of cynicism about government is clearly a factor in Mr. Obama’s health care woes, and suggests that selling other Big Ideas to a weary American public in the face of historic deficits and unemployment will be an uphill battle. Perhaps 9-11 “changed everything”, as has been said. One of the things it’s appeared to change, at least for our current political age, is the notion that what government says and does is true and good.