You might have heard by now about those aged but angry protesters at health care town halls warming their elected officials to "keep your government hands off my Medicare!" And, like me, you might have gotten a laff out of the illogic of the demand. But evidently this is a cognitive disconnect not of a few septuagenarian Fox News viewers, but rather a majority of Republicans across the country!
A new national survey from Public Policy Polling (D) illustrates the profound levels of ignorance that currently interfere with the debate over health care.
One question asked: "Do you think the government should stay out of Medicare?" Keep in mind that this is a logical impossibility, as Medicare is a government program, which was signed into law in 1965 by President Lyndon Johnson, to provide guaranteed health care to the elderly.
As it turns out, 39% of voters think government should stay out of Medicare, compared to 46% who disagree.
Among Republicans, 62% say the government should stay out of Medicare, compared to only 24% of Democrats and 31% of independents who agree.
(As an aside, I'd love to know what percentage of elected Republican officials would have answered yes... when ignorance of basic facts is a political strength rather than a liability, there's a strong incentive to be ignorant.)
I'm not sure what if anything this means for the prospects of health care reform. And I suppose that one possible, though very unlikely, interpretation of the finding is that those answering "Yes" might simply want to see Medicare abolished, as some of the most extreme right-wingers probably do. Or that the program should be perpetually frozen in time--no new benefits, nothing taken away, no adjustment in reimbursements, etc.
But I think it's probably just representative of our deep ambivalence toward "government," and the success that the modern conservative moment has had in painting any positive activity of the public sector as separate and distinct from the malignant entity that Rush Limbaugh and his ilk are always yowling about. A deep concern with and ongoing public debate over government's role is, in my opinion, justified and probably helpful; the reptile-brain hostility now on display is not.
Americans' views toward government have changed over time, but I'm starting to wonder if the default suspicion-bordering-on-rage we've seen for the last thirty years is maybe more historically representative than the faith and trust Americans seemed to have between the New Deal and Watergate. Of course, public views of government began to improve when government, under FDR and Democratic congresses, became more proactive in defense of the public good; attitudes began to sour again through the gross inhumanity and myriad public lies of the Vietnam War, the perceived waste of the Great Society, and the unrestrained and almost serene criminality of Watergate. I've long believed that progressives have to restore government's good name before they can begin to seriously dream of implementing a broad agenda. But there's a chicken-and-egg dynamic here: the way to prove that government can be a force for good in the lives of Americans is to take actions that improve those lives. On the question of health care, for the Democrats, that means simply taking a deep breath, passing something, and then working like hell to make sure it functions as it should.
Then, in thirty years, maybe the sixty-somethings of that time will attend Virtual Town Halls demanding that bureaucrats keep their sweaty hands off our Obamacare.