Political Theory

Obama's poll numbers have been improving steadily over the last week.  Theory:  people like Democrats much better when they are not talking about health care.  Corollary:  the liberal commentators saying that no, really, health care is in a good position to pass are indulging in wishful thinking.  (To be sure, it is possible to level exactly the same accusation at me).

The Townhall ruckuses were not the end of the Republican opposition on health care.  They were the beginning.  There is an observed regularity in politics so consistent that I am tempted to dub it Megan's First Law of Politics:  intentions are more popular than concrete proposals.  As long as there was no one Obama Plan on the table, people could project their fondest dreams onto the president.  Once there are plans on the table, Republicans will be able to attack specific propositions that are specifically attached to the president.

For example, polling last year found that a majority of Democratic primary voters were opposed to a mandate to buy health care.  Mandates were popular among two groups:  people with post-graduate education, and people who made more than $100K.  Polls this year are a little more positive--but people aren't paying attention to the details of the debate right now.  I'm betting that support for mandates drops once people aren't hearing about them for the first time from a pollster.  When someone asks you, "Should people have to buy health insurance?", if you haven't really thought about the question, your answer is likely to be different--and more positive--than it will be after you've been musing on the oppo ads for a while.

Moreover, this mandate will come with a specific price tag on the subsidies, not a fuzzy "should people have to buy health insurance" question.  Republicans will be able to find plenty of people who are going to be forced to buy insurance that they can't really afford under the new plan, or taxed heavily for their failure to comply.  Even worse, these people will be easier to identify with than the uninsured:  at or above the nation's median household income, possibly living in a high-cost area.  The lower Democrats cut the subsidies to make the price tag politically powerful, the more dramatic the sob stories will be.

This is not the only problem area.  The budget deficit is big enough--and projected to stay big enough--that people are starting to care about it again.  All of the plans on the table at this point stay deficit neutral only because the program doesn't kick in for four years; after that window, the costs explode.  Most of the plans are similar enough to what prevails in Massachussetts that Republicans can reasonably point to the runaway costs there.

Once there is a specific plan to make any cuts at all to Medicare, seniors will go ballistic.

. . . and so on, ad infinitum.  Health care reform has not survived the worst Republicans can throw at it.  It's survived--barely--the opening volley.