The healthcare debate is arousing passions unseen since the 1960s. Not even Iraq War II evoked the visceral reactions that are being played out in Florida and Missouri, and in news conferences and op-eds.
Yesterday, Peggy Noonan and Paul Krugman each zeroed in on the debate. For Peggy Noonan, it is about opposition to things being taken away and the unknown. For Dr. Krugman, ever the Princeton prof, it is about motley white folks being gussied up in BSquared duds. Pigs with lipstick.
Krugman way overstates. But he’s on to something. Something Team Obama is not keen on focusing on. Government option healthcare has become the flashpoint of the Great Welfare debate redux. The reality is that there is an insurance gap between between working whites and minorities, and the Obama Administration is asking taxpaying Americans to a) pay for closing the gap and b) making government both the insurer and regulator for all.
On the tony end of things, the question gets posed as to whether Obama wants America to be more like Europe. The tony end is polite and a tad misleading. Let’s face it: America’s demographics do not mirror Iceland or Sweden’s.
The more pointed question is does America want socialized medicine to be delivered by BHO, David Axelrod, Nancy Pelosi, Charlie Rangel and Henry Waxman?
And at this point the question is unresolved. In the last election, Obama won by 7 points despite losing the white working class by 18. But Obama did so by winning the tax revenue generating core – folks with incomes over 200k – and the college grads.
Connecting with the white working class is not part of the Obama skill set. He lacks the words. He lacks the body language. He lacks the empathy. Obama is neither Bill Clinton nor Colin Powell. Thursday night brew at the White House was an anthropological experiment — the Prof and the Cop. But based on the ’08 election, Obama may be right. Working class opposition may not matter. Jacksonian and working class notions of elbow room and disdain for the dole are just too quaint and inconvenient.
But here’s the thing. High income voters are looking at the price tag and know this one is coming out of their hides. House Dems have painted a bullseye on the wallets of wealthier America. Although wealthier America may be less vocal, it rightly fears that its medical care and the medical care of its elderly parents is about to be diminished, and that its back pocket is about to be thinned and skinned. The 50-year plus folks who live in the suburbs of Blue America, who last fall stuck bumper stickers shouting “Hope” and “Yes We Can” and “Obama”, who tried to look and sound like college kids, are now tellingly silent.
And so while the “mob” may be making the noise, it is not alone. The folks showing up at the town hall meetings to challenge Obamacare are not just speaking for themselves. They are also voicing the concerns of those for whom protest would either be declasse or, more likely, a symptom of buyer’s remorse.
Do I think a healthcare compromise is theoretically possible? Yes. Its name is Wyden-Bennett. But right now, Obama’s core supporters won’t bite. Better to be uninsured and aggrieved, better to feel morally pure. Better go hungry than take half-a-loaf. Better, in their mind, to roll the dice.