In the heyday of the television quiz show era, a popular and amusing show was To Tell the Truth. The show format included three people who all claimed to be a certain public figure, and a panel of celebrities whose task was to ascertain which of the three people was the real character, with cash prizes as the reward for the right answer. The panelists would ask a series of questions, with the two imposters pretending with their answers that each was the real character. At the end of the allotted time, the emcee would request "Will the real ... please stand up." After a series of feints by all three, the real figure would stand up, eliciting equal measure of delight and dismay from the panel and the studio audience.
In a clever twist on the 1960's quiz show, the President of the United States is playing all three figures himself, all professing to be the real Barack Obama. The centrist is a leftist, the post-racial plays the race card, the post-partisan is anything but. He supports free markets, then nationalizes one after another. He swears to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution," but says it is defective and walks all over it. He denies being a socialist or a fascist, but who is he really. Wright and Ayres were just a pastor and a guy in the neighborhood, but seem to be more. Obama is an American, but seems to loathe America. Obama is the chameleon in the White House.
When it comes to health care, we are told you can keep your insurance, but he prefers single payer. Your Medicare benefits will not be affected, but we will use half a trillion in Medicare money to fund national health care. Immigrants will not be covered, but what's to stop them. Abortion will not be covered, but actually yes it will. We seek a bipartisan solution, but we will ram it down your throats if need be. And my favorite of all, the mandate penalty is not a tax, but the IRS will collect them, and send you to prison if you don't pay. There's that "meaning of is" again. Given the President's predilection for saying almost anything to make the sale, and his endless repetition on television, it would not be surprising to find that his audience, the American citizens, are a bit confused on where he and his teleprompter stand. Even the New York Times concedes, in a column headline, "Public Wary of Obama on War and Health." Interpreting the latest New York Times / CBS poll, the Times says that while the President has "retained considerable political strength," Mr. Obama's media saturation on health care has confused the public more than anything else:
The poll found that an intense campaign by Mr. Obama to rally support behind his health care plan -- including an address to Congress, a run of television interviews and rallies across the country -- appears to have done little to allay concerns.
Majorities of respondents said that they were confused about the health care argument and that Mr. Obama had not done a good job in explaining what he was trying to accomplish.
It is a sad fact that when the current President speaks there may be a deception or a misdirection. Likewise when the New York Times runs a story there may be a distortion or ulterior political purpose in the story. And when the New York Times puts its name on a survey, there may be a slant in the questions or the reporting on the survey. In all three cases, it can be a game, albeit a very serious game, trying to divine the truth and the obfuscation. Nonetheless, it is instructive to take a closer look at a few of the survey questions regarding health care. Many of the survey results are similar to those of earlier surveys, and some will be used in the talking points disseminated by Axelrod and friends, so let us look at some questions that Obama's team may wish to ignore:
Question 3 found that jobs and the economy combined are the main priority of 41% of respondents, and health care, 19%. Jobs and the economy received more than twice the votes that health care received.
Question 21 found that 78% of respondents are somewhat or very satisfied with the quality of their health care, compared with 18% very or somewhat dissatisfied, a result that has been consistently reported in many surveys. Tell me again, Mr. President, why we are dismantling the current system?
Question 24 found that 51% of respondents feel it is not possible to cover most Americans without increasing the deficit, vs. 42% who think it can be done.
Question 32 found that 62% of respondents feel the President has not fully explained what his plans for health care reform would mean, compared with 32% who feel he has fully explained himself. That could be the same 32% who still swoon at the mention of Obama's name.
Question 33, on the other hand, found that 76% of respondents feel Republicans have not fully explained their plans. Or perhaps that the main-stream media have not deigned the Republican plans worthy of reporting.
Question 35 found that 60% of respondents felt that Obama is trying to work with Republicans in Congress. Oh Really? According to House Minority Leader John Boehner,
"I sent [the] president a letter back in May outlining some of the things we'd like to do in health care and asking for a meeting. And I got a nice, polite letter back that said basically, 'Thank you. We'll see you at the end of the process,' " Boehner said.
Question 38 found that 59% of respondents still think the proposed reforms are confusing, albeit that is down from 67% three weeks ago.
Question 43 found that 55% think Obama makes his changes sound better than they will really be. No credibility issues there, are there?
Question 49 found that 30% think quality of care would get worse, and 14% think it would get better. (The remainder either don't know or think it would stay the same.
Similarly, Question 50 found that 32% think the changes will make it harder to see a doctor, and 14% think it will be easier. Easier with someone else paying the bill perhaps?
Question 53 found that 26% of respondents feel that a "government organization," [aka death panel] will decide when to pull the plug, er, I mean, eh, "stop providing medical care" to the elderly, while 23% think that will not happen. More disturbing perhaps is that 47% of respondents don't know enough to say. Let's just rush the whole process and sign the bill, before the 47% demands an answer. They will find out soon enough anyway.
Question 57, most likely to be heard on a Sunday talk show, found that 65% of respondents favor a public option, with 26% opposed. However, if 59% are confused about the proposed reforms (see question 38), maybe question 57 should be taken with a grain of salt.
Question 59, also likely to be quoted on air, found that 72% of respondents want limits on what the insurance companies can charge for premiums, co-pays and out-of-pocket expenses. Limits set by who, based on what, and designed to drive who out of business? I find this question disturbing, as the responses are what one might expect to a blind question like that, and the results could be used to justify wage and price controls for health care.
Question 61 found that 51% of respondents favor tort reform, compared with 11% against. All Senator Baucus could manage on tort reform was a toothless "Sense of the Senate" provision.
Question 65 found respondents evenly divided on whether it is the Federal government's moral responsibility to guarantee health insurance to all, 47% yes and 48% no.
Question 66 found that 65% of respondents feel a bill should be passed that receives Republican support, while just 23% feel the Democrats should just pass their own bill. Whether a fig leaf of one Senate Republican, Olympia Snow, supporting the bill qualifies as "Republican support" is above my pay grade, to quote a certain post-partisan Presidential candidate.
An unnumbered question on page 23 found the survey split 38-28 on Obama-McCain voters, which equates to 58% for Obama. Since Obama received about 53% of the Presidential election vote, the survey population appears to be a bit unbalanced in that respect. Not a lot, but a little here, a little there...
Finally, an unnumbered question on page 25 confirms other surveys in that respondents classified themselves as 21% liberals, 39% moderates and 36% conservatives. So a left-of-liberal health care reform ought to fit perfectly in our center-right nation. One has to think that the great liberal overreach that is now underway will sooner or later be rejected by the American people.
And so as panelists on the modern-day version of To Tell the Truth, we anxiously await the moment when the real Barack Obama stands up. Then again, maybe this is more like Waiting For Godot.