Sure, Obama and Congress have been hurt in the polls by the recent discussion of healthcare, a personal and complicated topic for Americans. But what would the public’s perception of President Obama and Congress be like if they weren’t discussing healthcare?
Much of Obama’s support last November came from his promise to reform our increasingly costly and ineffective healthcare system. If he didn’t talk about it now, or at any time in his presidency, he would be seen as reneging on his campaign promise in order to avoid the bitter struggle that any healthcare reform would involve. He would suffer in the polls more than he is now.
Most Americans realize our current healthcare system can’t be sustained and support some kind of reform. Even Republicans admit that some action must be taken. Any substantial attempt at reform, however, is bound to make a majority of Americans worry about the federal debt, the expansion of the federal government, and the future of their current plans, however inadequate they may be.
While healthcare is a touchy issue that will give a headache to whatever politician has the balls to deal with it, it is not a “third rail.” At this time, inaction would harm Obama and Congress even more in the public eye than action.
Well, the Browns didn’t exactly get off to a great start last night. When you don’t score a point and give up two first-quarter touchdowns to the other team’s first-stringers, you’ve got some work to do.
Although I don’t think the Browns will be very good this year, I think it is a bit early to panic. The worst statistic from last night’s game, in my view, is that the Browns defense was unable to get any pressure on the opposing quarterback. When you give a pro all day to throw, you’re going to get ripped to shreds. If the Browns can’t figure out how to deal with that problem, it is going to be a long season indeed.
Members of Congress don’t have a lot of good options during this August of discontent. If they do have town hall meetings, they may confront angry or concerned constituents who ask hard questions and make pointed statements about the health care reform effort. If they don’t have town hall meetings, on the other hand, they get criticized for dodging the voters and being unwilling to grapple with tough issues. The latter has happened to members of the New Hampshire congressional delegation. With New England’s long history of public debate in town hall meetings, you would think New England voters would not be happy with elected representatives who are too chicken-hearted to actually meet and listen to their constituents.
Back in the ’80s, Tip O’Neill famously observed that Social Security was the “third rail” of American politics — if you touched it, you were dead.
Is health care reform the new “third rail”? Although the specific poll results vary, the broad trends in the polls seems pretty clear. The focus on health care reform has caused President Obama’s approval ratings to decline, has caused general congressional approval ratings to decline, and has caused more Americans to conclude that America is “headed in the wrong direction.” It also is apparent that the health care reform issue has touched a raw nerve for many people who are showing up for town hall meetings, writing their Members of Congress, and taking other actions that indicate that they are engaged in the process and following the debate.
The 2010 elections are still far away. If health care reform is really the new “third rail,” we’ll know when those elections roll around. If health care reform is the subject of incessant negative television ads, that will be a good indication.