Friday, March 12, 2010

In touch or out of touch?

Here is a fascinating opinion piece in the Washington Post by Pat Caddell and Douglas Schoen, pollsters to the past two Democratic presidents, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. They suggest that the Democrats are not in touch with the public regarding health care reform. "Their blind persistence in the face of reality threatens to turn this political march of folly into an electoral rout in November." See my recent notes here and here that have related themes.

More excerpts:

"The battle for public opinion has been lost. Comprehensive health care has been lost."

"Yes, most Americans believe, as we do, that real health-care reform is needed. And yes, certain proposals in the plan are supported by the public. However, a solid majority of Americans opposes the massive health-reform plan."

"Health care is no longer a debate about the merits of specific initiatives. Since the spectacle of Christmas dealmaking to ensure passage of the Senate bill, the issue, in voters' minds, has become less about health care than about the government and a political majority that will neither hear nor heed the will of the people."

"For Democrats to begin turning around their political fortunes there has to be a frank acknowledgement that the comprehensive health-care initiative is a failure, regardless of whether it passes. There are enough Republican and Democratic proposals -- such as purchasing insurance across state lines, malpractice reform, incrementally increasing coverage, initiatives to hold down costs, covering preexisting conditions and ensuring portability -- that can win bipartisan support. It is not a question of starting over but of taking the best of both parties and presenting that as representative of what we need to do to achieve meaningful reform."


Anonymous said...

I don't see any data to support your assertions that most Americans oppose the massive health reform plan. Without data all we have is opinions.

Here's my opinion... The Republicans have been saying "Let's not rush this" since 1993 and nothing has been accomplished while healthcare costs and insurance skyrocket. They're continuing to say "Let's start over" and how many discussions/attempts have been made? I guess I don't have the data on that, either, but I share Obama's perspective on this and I do have faith that our country as a whole will be better off if the legislation is passed. I don't trust the future of healthcare coverage to insurance companies who deny coverage when it's needed most and exist purely for profit while telling us in their commercials how much they really care about us.

Anonymous said...

I am posting their opinion, not mine. But read closely: They agree with you on the last point, saying insurance reform would get wide support.

Anonymous said...

A few thoughts...

>> As noted above, a look at the most recent national polls shows that the trend is that health care reform is actually getting more popular, despite the intense attacks on it by the Republican Party and corporations:

Caddell and Schoen dismiss this trend, sniffing that "this isn't 1994; it's 2010" and scold Obama for fighting the "last war." Huh? The entire premise of their argument is that they want Obama to repeat Clinton's strategy from the last war of 1994. They want him to give up on healthcare reform.

Most Democrats fear that surrender on this key priority would deeply depress Obama's core supporters and mean that the usual losses that the parties of sitting Presidents see during mid-terms will be even worse. After all, in the "last war" of 1994, Clinton surrendered on health reform and then watched disillusioned Democratic voters stay at home in droves on election day: (

>> Neither Caddell nor Schoen seem to know very much about the actual policy being debated here.

Take, for example, their suggestion that Democrats make the incremental step of "allowing insurance to be sold across state lines" -- a talking point repeated with numbing repetition by conservatives.

The reality is that the proposed reforms do exactly that, in the form of the insurance exchanges -- a compromise that preserves private insurance, fosters more competition among insurance companies to drive down prices, while also providing safeguards for consumers.

The real sticking point is that Republicans won't agree to any meaningful public oversight of insurance corporations. They want a completely unregulated insurance market, which would enable insurers to cherry pick the more profitable young, affluent and healthy and shuffle people who really need care into more expensive plans, further driving up costs for people who need affordable care the most.

Democrats have attempted to make a good faith compromise with Republicans on this issue, balancing insurance competition with protections for consumers. But despite what's happened to our housing and financial sectors, Republicans remain intractably opposed to any effort to set up ground rules that protect consumers.

Anyone who thinks that it's possible to "do this one step at a time" with smaller insurance reforms deeply misunderstands the philosophy of the contemporary Republican party on the role of government in the economy. They will only support "reforms" that reduce regulation of health insurance.

>> Whenever Caddell or Schoen are cited or present themselves as "Democratic" experts, you have to remember that they are barely within the Democratic mainstream. Caddell is famous for his eccentric contrarianism and is routinely invited onto Fox News to play the role of a Democrat who agrees that the Democrats are wrong about everything. Schoen epitomizes conservative Democatic orthodoxy and spends a lot of time on Fox News as well.

Both of them generally oppose attempts by government to provide oversight of business and, not surprisingly, will often be in sync with conservatives' pro-business/anti-government outlook. Caddell and Schoen are both also strongly anti-union. (No wonder you love 'em!)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for offering a different perspective. My point in posting is to give people a chance to do just that.

As I read your comment and recognized your clever use of words to define these two commenters, I was wondering if and when you would see fit to add the last line. It is, of course, gratuitous and off the point. Not to mention inaccurate.

Anonymous said...

There is some more interesting commentary about the difficulties of polling on this issue here:

Health Reform Musings said...

Paul: I fear that Caddell and Schoen are right. See my thoughts on Charlie Rose's interview with Speaker Pelosi at

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Bruce.

I hadn't linked yet to your blog. Will do so now.

And thanks for your years of service in this arena. I hope more is to come!

Anonymous said...

Just want to note that I'm certainly not the only one who is gets suspicious about the motives -- and the merits -- of Caddell and Schoen's advice when they start in on what's best for the future of the progressive movement or the Democratic party:

False Friends by Ed Kilgore

More Insincere Advice for Dems by Jonathan Chait

Engineer on Medicare said...

If society decides to socialize an expensive element of the health care system, such as guaranteeing "health insurance" to those who are not really "insurable" because of pre-existing conditions, it must tax someone else to pay the bill. The tax in the proposed health care bill is assessed by complling young, healty people who could get insurance based on their need for much less than they would have to pay under the proposed plan. It is patently unfair, and they have other expenses, such as setting up households and paying off enoumous education loans. They don't have extra money to pay for health insurance for overweight diabetics and smokers with emphysema.

If the government chooses to socialize certain aspects of health care, they should count the cost, appropriate the money, and pay for it with some kind of general tax.