Ross Douthat interviews Frank Luntz to get to the bottom of healthcare reform's unpopularity, only four months after he warned that Republicans were going up against the tremendous popularity of healthcare reform, because he's Frank Luntz and he's just like that.
he long shadow of that 1994 drubbing helps explain why Democrats will probably end up passing something called “health care reform” before the year is out, the better to avoid their party’s Clinton-era fate.
But Frank Luntz, the pollster behind Gingrich’s Contract With America, thinks they may have the wrong early-1990s parallel in mind.
When I asked him about the lessons of 1994, Luntz — whose latest book, “What Americans Really Want ... Really,” is pitched to a bipartisan audience — happily rattled off the parallels between that era and this one: anxiety about deficits, furious distrust of Washington, growing doubts about a Democratic president.
But Luntz insisted that in the run-up to the ’94 election, “it wasn’t the health care debate that was driving the anger; it was the crime bill.”
Basically, what Luntz points out is that the insane response to Bill Clinton wasn't just because of the health care bill, it was pretty much everything that Clinton was doing that was in the least bit identifiably liberal. The secret isn't, as Douthat and Luntz try to argue - while shilling for Luntz's book, because that's an awesome perk of having unjustifiably been gifted an op-ed space on the NYT op-ed page - that the American public has an aversion to liberalism which must be averted as soon as possible before Obama dons his Che hat. The secret is that there is a core of the American public that America's right wing has been radicalizing since FDR.
It's often said that we shouldn't dismiss the opposition to Obama as racists, or crazy, or potentially violent. And the thing is, we aren't dismissing them. We're accurately describing them, and taking their threat very seriously. There's an assumption in our discourse that by describing someone as a paranoid bigot, we're marginalizing them and saying they don't have influence. This is largely because of a mainstream-media driven assumption that anyone who appeals to large numbers of people or makes their voice influential on the national stage must ergo be rational. I, for one, am totally willing to admit that crazy people such as Baron Weephausen can have a huge, even outsized effect on the political debate while still potentially needing a steady supply of adult diapers for what we call "rage leaks".
The fact that a movement gains momentum does not make it rational or worthy of driving public discourse; it just means that far too many people are gullible enough to believe that Barack Obama is hunting down grandparents and harvesting their worn-out organs to mulch his organic garden with. They're dangerous, they're stupid, they're angry, but what they are not is "dismissed".