How Important Is Popularity

I’m pretty sure I’ve said this multiple times before, but it bears repeating that I really think Atrios is overstating the importance of short-term popularity in healthcare reform. For one thing, popularity doesn’t necessarily track good policy. If Democrats wanted to pass a healthcare bill solely around popular opinion, they could craft something that includes popular insurance reforms but no mandate. That would involve including popular things while excluding the most unpopular aspect of the bill, but it would also trigger a death spiral that would end with everyone but the solidly affluent and very healthy, and that probably wouldn’t be very popular. It also probably wouldn’t do politicians a lot of good to make the argument that they were only doing what the public said it wanted at the time. To put it in terms that will strike closer to progressive sensibilities, right now more voters than not are telling pollsters they want the government to do something about the deficit. But actually pursuing deficit reduction would damage the labor market even more, and voters wouldn’t much care for that, and protesting that you were only reducing the deficit like voters said they wanted wouldn’t do elected officials much good in elections amidst 13% unemployment.

Another complicating issue is that reform will itself keep many people from encountering the worst aspects of the insurance industry. People who haven’t had their policy rescinded or been denied insurance for a pre-existing condition may not fully realize what they’re getting out of the deal, but that doesn’t mean they won’t benefit. Atrios’s argument seems to be that the public option gives them something to look at, but even assuming the public option is available to everyone, I’m skeptical that that many people with employer provided insurance would opt to give it up for the public option. But either way, the fundamental point is the same; in the long run, it’s much more important for healthcare reform to represent good policy than to poll well in the near-term.