Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Why Americans Hate Politics -- Even as They Love Their Own Health, and Medical Sagas
Veteran political analyst Bruce Drake, writing Poll Watch for Politics Daily, cites some interesting data: According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, just 25 percent of Americans think that the fight in Congress over Obamacare is over principle. Instead, 59 percent think that the fight is mostly just partisanship.
And while those poll findings are lopsided, the American people themselves are more closely divided on the merits of the bill: 45 percent are for it, and 45 percent are against it. (Although Drake further notes that within those dueling 45's, 32 percent of Americans say that they are "strongly" against the bill, while just 23 percent say that they are "strongly" for it--it's that differential in intensity that has on-the-fence Democrats staying, well, on the fence.)
Next, Drake produces a chart of health issues that the American people might unite around--that chart is reproduced above. It shows, for example, that 76 percent support reforming the way health insurance works, and that 72 percent of Americans support providing tax credits to small business to provide health insurance. Now of course, the devil is in the details--and in the deficit. If that second question, about tax credits, were reworked to say, "tax credits that would add to the deficit," the percentage of Americans supporting those credits would probably plummet.
What didn't get asked, though, were questions about cures. How many American would support the political class coming together to cure Alzheimer's? Or diabetes? Or spinal cord injuries? Or ALS? And yet the decision to proceed, or not to proceed, on such scientific quests is substantially political--influenced, of course, by the larger culture. So the real issue is one of agenda-setting. If the political class puts forward polling questions on healthcare policy, it will get back answers on healthcare policy. But if it puts forth polling questions on cures, it will get back answers on cures.
And yes, the decision to move forward on cures, or not, is intensely political. When big decisions get made, big things can happen--quick. A case in point is AIDS. The human immunodeficiency virus, HIV, was first discovered in 1981, and the first effective treatment, AZT, was used in 1987. That was a lag time of just six years. A long six years, to be sure, and AZT was no surefire cure, but it was a great beginning. A triumph of medical science, nurtured by a supportive political and cultural framework. And millions of lives have been saved as a result. The battle is far from over, but we can see now that HIV/AIDS can become a manageable condition, not a mass killer.
Yet as noted here at SMS many times, there's a curious mental bifurcation between "healthcare policy" and medicine. To the chattering class, healthcare policy is all about insurance, and exchanges, and "the public option." But to most American, healthcare policy is boring, even off-putting. And yet both parties, Democrats and Republicans, fall into the trap of arguing about "healthcare policy," to the exclusion of everything else. To the exclusion, therefore, of cures. To the exclusion, therefore, of public engagement.
And yet at the same time, discussions of cures, and the quest for cures, are a continuing subject of public fascination. For example, The New York Times' Amy Harmon has written a fascinating two-part series on melanoma treatment, the second of which is headlined, "After Long Fight, Drug Gives Sudden Reprieve." A pretty compelling story, no? To a country full of people watching "House," yes, it is compelling.
But not to the political class, and the politicized class. So today, on the second day of Harmon's skin-cancer series, the Times lead editorial today sings the praises of Obamacare. In other words, to highly politicized media editorialists, the Washington fight over healthcare finance is more important than the medical fight against skin cancer.
No wonder people hate politics.
Posted by James P. Pinkerton at 8:35 AM