Michael Kinsley is full of invective for the citizens, pundits, and politicians who oppose ObamaCare. We are, he tells us, like “spoiled children.” We are filled with misinformation. We don’t know what’s good for us or what we want. (It’s getting to the point where being on the enemies list for ObamaCare is becoming cool—the Right’s badge of honor, as Nixon’s enemies list was for the Left.) But he does get one thing right: Americans aren’t up for a huge change in the way they get health care. The vast majority of voters, remember, have health care they like. It was Obama and the congressional Democrats who came up with the idea that we had to destroy the existing system and start all over.
A few points are in order. First, Americans are opposed to ObamaCare not because of irrational fears cooked up by talk-show hosts but because they have figured out what’s in it. Seniors figured out that hundreds of billions of dollars in Medicare cuts might impact their care. The notion of “comparative effectiveness” research and government interference with treatment decisions have rightly alarmed voters. (Remember when liberals used to be concerned about personal autonomy and medical privacy?) And the looming costs and gargantuan deficit figures have freaked out Republicans, independents, and a good number of Democrats.
Second, the Obama administration, by Kinsley’s reckoning, is guilty of political malpractice if they can’t, with all their communication and political advantages, get us to understand what a great deal this is. It’s almost as if the bigger the project, the more incompetently politicians handle it. Yes, if they can’t handle the sales job on nationalized health care, maybe they aren’t up for the health-care part either.
And finally, Kinsley’s right: Obama ran as a moderate in a center-right country and has embarked on a radical agenda to reinvent everything about everything. The recession was going to lower our resistance to change. It didn’t. Americans are not politically radical; the president’s agenda is. Hence, the problem.
One would think that the solution would be some modest health-care reforms focusing on portability and insurance pools for small business, for example. Wouldn’t modest change be less scary and more acceptable to those easily frightened voters? But then Obama would have to change. He’d have to rethink his government-centric vision of health care and just about every other aspect of his domestic agenda. That may be a problem. He wanted Americans to change. Now that they won’t—at least not in the sweeping fashion he had hoped—we’ll see how flexible he is.