A few weeks ago, Jason Cherkis reported a fascinating anecdote from the Kentucky State Fair a few weeks ago, noting a "middle-aged man in a red golf shirt" who shuffled up to a small folding table to hear about state's health benefit exchange established by the Affordable Care Act. The man was impressed with what he heard, telling one of the workers behind the table, "This beats Obamacare I hope."
The man likes the Affordable Care Act. He just didn't know it.
The story came to mind yesterday looking over the new Obamacare polls from NBC/Wall Street Journal and the Pew Research Center, both of which reinforced the larger trends -- the health care reform law remains largely unpopular, even as implementation continues apace. The reason everyone should take the results with a grain of salt, though, has to do with the middle-aged man in a red golf shirt -- most Americans still have no idea what Obamacare is.
The public does, however, know what sabotage is, and in this case, it's far more unpopular than the law itself.
The Pew poll, for example, asked Americans whether they approve or disapprove of the Affordable Care Act. A 42% minority supports the law. But respondents opposed to Obamacare were pressed further and Pew found that only 23% of the public believes officials "should do what they can to make the law fail."
In other words, less than a fourth of the public endorses the Republican Party's position on health care. Since many conservatives eager touted the Pew results yesterday, I can only assume they didn't read the results closely enough.
And who makes up this pro-sabotage contingent that wants public officials to make the federal health care law fail on purpose? Before you say "Republicans," note that this isn't the whole story.
Greg Sargent talked to Pew about the "make-Obamacare-fail dead-enders."
I asked Pew for a fuller breakdown of the numbers, and the firm sent me new data that illustrates just how extreme a position this really is. However, the data also illustrates in a new way why GOP officials feel under such pressure to continue trying to undermine the law -- it all has to do with who votes in GOP primaries. [...]The "make Obamacare fail" position is a minority preoccupation that is driven largely by Tea Party Republicans and has very little support even among independents -- including fewer than half of those independents who oppose the law. Yet it's exerting an enormous influence over the GOP's posture heading into this fall's fiscal fights, and by contrast, over our political situation in general and potentially over the fate of the economy.
Quite right. House Republicans have voted 41 times to gut the Affordable Care Act, but they're nevertheless prepared to keep pushing the crusade further, threatening a government shutdown and a debt-ceiling crisis over the moderate health care law that makes the party hysterical.
But only part of the party -- the extremist base that writes checks in response to far-right fundraising appeals, shows up at Tea Party rallies, never changes the channel from Fox News, and shows up to participate in GOP primaries. They want Republican policymakers to sabotage the law, and since party officials have become beholden to them, that's precisely what they're doing.
Postscript: Let's also not brush past public confusion too quickly, because the ignorance is at times staggering. NBC News asked poll respondents to describe in their own words their attitudes towards the Affordable Care Act, and Senior Political Editor Mark Murray published a representative sampling of the results yesterday.
There was a Tennessee man who said he opposes the law in part because Sarah Palin said "there will be death committees." There was a man in Delaware who said it's not "fair" that Congress gets to pass health care legislation instead of giving Americans "a choice to elect it." And then there was this take from a woman in North Carolina:
"It's not going to lower the cost of premiums. We're going to get worse healthcare, and it's going to increase the debt. There are death panels in there, and they're going to decide whether people get treatment or not. Which means they're going to ration health care and that's not right. And they're putting taxes on it. People with unions are going to get taxed. It's going to increase taxes."