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After health law, Washington is still disconnected from the people

There is something incongruous about the celebrations among President Obama, his cabinet members, and other Democratic leaders the past few days, to mark the passing of the healthcare bill.

Yesterday’s ceremony at the White House in which President Obama signed the bill into law was described as “raucous”, with the Democrats in attendance “jubilant and even giddy”. Yet the general mood among Americans today cannot be described as “jubilant” or “giddy”. The Obama-ites are acting like this is a “bliss to be alive” period, but such a feeling exists only among a minority of hardcore liberal supporters.

When Obama was elected in November 2008, many people were genuinely excited and took to the streets to rejoice. His celebration was theirs too. But today, Obama and his Democratic coterie are joined by far fewer. There is a disconnect between the Democrats’ high-fives and hugs, their “chest bumps and goose bumps” as Maureen Dowd puts it, and the much less enthusiastic reaction among most Americans.

But while I believe there is such a disconnect, I do not agree with conservatives who believe that the predominant response among the population is full-throttle anger. In The American Spectator, Robert Stacy McCain writes, in reference to the November 2010 mid-term elections: “Seven months is a long time in politics, but it probably won’t be long enough for Democrats to make millions of Americans forget why they’re still mad as hell at Washington.” That “mad as hell” attitude is just not apparent outside of small Tea Party protests.

Nor do I think the Democrats ran roughshod over the people’s will. Megan McArdle says: “What I hope is that the Democrats take a beating at the ballot box and rethink their contempt for those mouth-breathing illiterates in the electorate.” But the Democrats were elected with a promise to reform healthcare (albeit a vague one), and legislators are in no way beholden to vote according to the latest poll result. 

Those who are angry about the bill are in the minority; those who are wildly happy about it are too. Overall, it is fairer to say that views are mixed, with most either skeptical or cautiously optimistic.

Polls undertaken before the bill passed showed that those opposed to the bill outnumbered those who favored it, by about 50 percent to 43 percent. But now liberals are pointing to a post-vote poll by USA Today-Gallup that shows a turnaround, with a slight majority now in favor of the legislation. Democrats say that vindicates their argument that they were right to vote for the bill despite the polls, because people would come around eventually. However, it’s just one poll, and, sure enough, a later CBS survey found that a plurality still disapprove, by 46 percent to 42 percent. Again, the only reasonable conclusion is that Americans (at least up to now) have mixed views.

As I noted in my spiked article on the healthcare bill, even though the health legislation process went on for 15 months, it was never the case until just before the vote that there was a “plan”. Neither Obama nor congress came up with anything specific for people to evaluate. Polls were taken over that period, but they were always going to be somewhat misleading, given that the lack of details meant that most people could not form definitive opinions. It is not surprising that many people are only now beginning to try to understand exactly what is in the bill and what it will mean for them.

Finally, it is worth noting that the disconnect between Washington and the rest is not just a problem for the Democrats. Republicans’ kow-towing to the Tea Party protesters meant that they were aligning themselves with a small minority, and were equally distant from most Americans’ concerns.

Another poll – not about healthcare - that Washington politicos ought to read is from Bloomberg. As Daniel Indiviglio notes, the survey indicates that “America hates congress more than Wall Street”: 67 percent have an unfavorable view of congress (the most unfavorably-viewed of all groups), while 57 percent view Wall Street unfavorably. To me, this indicates that people see the entire political class – Democrat and Republican - as suspect. Furthermore, there is an expectation that Obama and the Democrtas will soon rev up their populist anti-banker rhetoric again to help get a financial reform package through. The Bloomberg survey finds a majority in favor of financial reform, but it would also seem to serve as a warning  that banker-bashing may not work as well as expected, since it is coming from a group that people hold in lower esteem than Wall Street.

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