Since the passage of the Health Care Reform Bill, the Democrat leadership has embarked on a strategy of demonizing its opponents as angry, potentially violent racists. Charles M. Blow developed a new line of attack in his New York Times column last weekend, with an argument based on a recent Pew Research Council poll: Republicans don't understand ObamaCare, so they have no right to criticize it.
Coverage of the Pew poll took a good chunk of the Times Op-Ed page, with bar charts demonstrating "[a] lack of understanding" of Obamacare based on their poll question, "How well do you feel you understand how the new health care reform law will affect you and your family?" Democrats, who generally support the bill, reported greater understanding, with 64% answering "very much" or "somewhat" and 37% responding "not so much" or "not at all." Republicans were less confident that they understood the bill, with a 47/52 breakdown in these categories.
The Pew poll does not test anything quantifiable; it asks how respondents "feel" they understand the health care bill. Nevertheless, Mr. Blow's accompanying column, "An Article of Faith," uses this data to draw sweeping generalizations that opposition to Obamacare is based on faith, anger, and emotion, while supporters rely on knowledge, reason, and evidence.
For a sample of Blow's laser-beam insights: He compares an exchange between Rush Limbaugh and President Obama. Obama said, "Americans know that we're trying hard, that I want what's best for the country." Rush responded, according to the columnist, "I and most Americans do not believe President Obama is trying to do what's best for the country." Mr. Blow points out that Rush used the verb "believe" while the President used the verb "know," thereby proving that Republican opposition is faith-based, while Democrat support is reason-based.
Is this what passes for serious analysis at the New York Times? Both men are expressing opinions that are open to argument. If one wanted to play the game of judging the majority of the American people by the word choice of a radio host who talks for three hours a day without a script, one could argue that Rush's using the word "believe" acknowledges the subjective nature of his statement. Granted, President Obama's verb "know" is a synonym for "believe" in casual language, but it is typical of Obama's arrogance that he believes that his opinions are irrefutable knowledge. And given the president's poll numbers, it requires a leap of faith to believe that Americans are behind him.
It gets worse. I double-checked Rush's quote from his Friday show, and what Limbaugh actually said varies from Mr. Blow's transcript in three places: "The American people do not think that Barack Obama is doing what's best for the country." The verb "believe" that Mr. Blow uses to buttress the thesis of his essay does appear in Rush's next sentence, but one could easily apply Mr. Blow's simplistic word games and conclude that Rush is an American thinker, while President Obama is a know-it-all.
Mr. Blow sums up by delivering a withering "gotcha":
[Most] Republicans say that they still don't understand how the new health care reform will affect them and their family.
They don't know what it means, but they believe it's bad.
The smugness is galling. Does Mr. Blow not recall that we have just listened to a year of blithe assurances from Democrat leaders that they haven't read the bill, but they know it's good? As Nancy Pelosi famously said, "We need to pass the health care bill to find out what's in it."
Or Representative John Conyers (D-MI): "I love these members that get up and say, 'Read the bill!' Well, what good is reading the bill if it's a thousand pages and you don't have two days and two lawyers to find out what it means after you've read the bill?"
During the House debate, Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-HI) voted for the House bill that he had not read. "You'd have to have hours and hours and hours to be able to do all that," he explained.
This did not stop the Democrat leadership from promoting the Health Care Reform Bill with an astounding barrage of propaganda and outright lies.
Give this history, it seems more likely that the people who "feel" they understand the bill rely on faith in their party's propaganda, while those who doubt their understanding of the bill are suspicious of political machinations. The latter seems an eminently rational view.
If Pew had polled Congress, they would fall into the "not too much" category (assuming they answered honestly). We have already witnessed two examples in the last week. The coverage of children's preexisting conditions turned out to hinge on the wording of one paragraph of a 2,400-page bill. One would expect that poorly written legislation would reflect poorly on Congress. The job of legislators is, after all, is to write legislation. John Kerry was typically shameless, writing in a fundraising letter:
Insurance companies, citing some made-up loophole they "discovered," announced that they wouldn't write policies for sick kids. Immediately, President Obama's Secretary of Health and Human Services let them know we wouldn't stand for any of this red tape, loophole nonsense.
Does Senator Kerry expect us to believe that the health care bill is free of red tape and loopholes? Now that requires faith.
Another of the 2,400 pages will cost corporations billions of dollars by eliminating a tax deduction for employee health care. Rep. Henry Waxman is furious that these companies have obeyed SEC requirements and reported this expense. Waxman apparently understood the bill not so much.
It seems unlikely that any single person understands a bill of this incredible complexity and self-contradiction. The invisible technocrats who wrote it might comprehend their own tiny contributions, but its proponents -- including the president and congressional leaders -- did not deign to read the thing. It is entirely rational to oppose the bill and not understand it; it is a bad bill because it is incomprehensible.
I fear that over the next decade, as complicated new regulations unfold, we'll discover that we were all in the "understand not too much/not at all" category.
Peter Wilson is a writer who blogs at walkingdogcapitalist.