Conservatives have held nothing back in their efforts to discredit the efforts of the majority of Congress and President Barack Obama to reform the health care system. Their strategy is simple: by spreading lies about the health care plans before Congress, among them government “death panels,” coverage for illegal immigrants, and government tax dollars for abortions, conservatives hope the public can remain confused about what is actually in these plans.
This strategy, as appalling as it is, makes sense from their avowed goal of stopping health care reform. As poll after poll has documented, the public strongly supports the basic reforms that the health care bills would deliver. The latest example of this comes from an end of August CBS News poll. In that poll, 79 percent support “requiring health insurance companies to cover anyone who applies,” 72 percent support “the government setting limits on the amount that health insurance companies can charge people for insurance premiums, co-pays, and out-of-pocket expenses” and 71 percent support “the government providing subsidies to help low-income people buy their own health insurance from private insurance companies.”
These are items that are sure to be in any health care reform bill that Obama signs. But does the public know that? Very doubtful. In the same poll, respondents were asked “Do you think you understand the health care reforms under consideration in Congress, or are they confusing to you?” By an overwhelming 67 percent to 31 percent, the public confessed they are confused by the health care reforms before Congress. This is the confusion the conservatives are so assiduously trying to cultivate.
President Obama can use the bully pulpit to try to dispel some of this confusion. Right now, the public does not feel he has done that. By a 60 percent- to 31-percent margin, they say he has not clearly explained his plans for health care reform. Tomorrow evening the president will have his chance to put that right. If he does, the worst possible thing for conservatives’ political strategy may happen: The public will have some clarity on what is at stake in health care reform. That’s the conservatives’ great nightmare. Let’s hope it happens.
Ruy Teixeira is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress. To learn more about his public opinion analysis go to the Media and Culture page and the Progressive Studies program page of our website.