Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Telling Us What We Agree On

Americans are in remarkable agreement lately on an awful lot. They agree the Iraq War was a mistake, and that the United States should start getting out. They think the economy is lousy and the country is on the wrong track. They want the government to find a way to guarantee health insurance to everyone and they overwhelmingly believe the bipartisan congressional effort to expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) is a good idea.

The people are united, Ms. Cocco thinks. It's the politicians who are divided and polarized. "Paralysis does not afflict Washington because the public is split about what it wants. It's because the politicians just won't deliver."
I dunno. I'm an American, and if there's a statement in that paragraph I agree with, I haven't found it yet. How are we defining "remarkable agreement" here ? On the issue of Iraq, AP-Ipsos said recently that 38 percent still agree with me that the war was the right call (my own disagreements with Iraq are more related to execution than the original idea). 60 percent is a big number, but I'm not sure if it's enough to get to "remarkable agreement."
Turning to the "remarkable agreement" on getting out, that's bosh -- a CNN/Opinion Research Poll from early this month had between 30 and 39 percent of respondents favoring some kind of withdrawal. In what way is that "remarkable agreement ?" The same poll reports 41 percent of respondents saying that the US did the "right thing" going into Iraq. Count me glad not to agree on this issue, either.
As to the government finding a "way to guarantee health insurance to everyone," despite the best efforts of the prestige media to stampede us into a Canadian style-single payer system, I'm not buying it. I'm not seeing a groundswell of demands by the voters for nationalized Hillary-care style health insurance, or the taxpayers paying everybody's medical bill. Costs, however, seem to be a bigger problem than access.
I'm sure that you'd probably find healthy majorities for each of the points in Ms. Cocco's paragraph quoted above, which would get bigger or smaller depending on precisely how you framed the questions. That's the business the media's in -- framing the questions. And just like you, gentle reader, and yours truly, the media types have opinions of their own, and that goes into their writing and talking, and impacts how the issues are framed.
You can probably find a majority on any subject, if you frame the question correctly. But the really important question revolves around the intensity of people's opinions. How badly do voters want the "government to find a way to guarantee health insurance to everyone" ? Badly enough to support major tax increases? How badly do people really want a withdrawal from Iraq ? Badly enough to support it despite the probable collapse of the Iraqi government; thousands more civilian casualties there when we do what MoveOn wants and bug-out; and, our national humiliation ? The public may not be "split" at all on thinking that all uninsured kids having health insurance is a generally good idea, (in a don't wanna be against that sort of way), but when it comes to dollars, they may well balk at having their taxes raised to pay for it.
Of course, the politicians "don't deliver," because there is a real downside to every popular policy preference. Besides, you have between 30 and 40 percent of us on any given issue who aren't in "remarkable agreement" and who have no problems whatever in letting the politicos know that. Remember, it's a big country, with a political process that is biased against the production of legislation, and that can only produce legislative solutions when there's real consensus, as opposed to vague happy-feeling policy preferences.
If you really want "remarkable agreement" to have its way more often, abolish the Senate, and elect the entire Congress and the President at large (a parliamentary system), or establish government by opinion polls. When this happens, the country will get somewhat smaller, as those of us who live in flyover country -- who aren't remarkable agreers, and don't wish to be governed by the policy preferences of the bi-coastal, urban media elite -- will immediately de-camp and let the Northeast and Pacific coasts set up their own Euro-style utopia. Meanwhile. I, for one, am only too proud not to be in agreement.

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