With the unsurprising news that most of the Americans who oppose the health-care-reform bill are doing so because it does not go far enough in overhauling the system -- we knew this last December -- there's an opportunity to revisit the Obama administration's communications strategy on this issue.
Mainly, the White House has got to stop disguising its own policy views when it celebrates the ACA. While pragmatism is a necessary part of legislating, it confuses the public when your normative views appear identical to the final compromise. No doubt the Obama administration's policy wonks wish they could have gotten more from this legislation, and while that nuance might be tough to share, doing so might make those Americans disappointed with the reach of the law more inclined to support the White House.
Identifying shortcomings could also give the Democrats a better 2010 campaign narrative -- one with readily identifiable opponents -- rather than forcing them to confront a vague dissatisfaction with incumbents. Finally, the Democratic base lacks any proactive reason to get out to vote, as the majority party doesn't have much of a post-November agenda, and this could provide somewhere to peg activists' efforts.
Walking this line can be hard for the White House as it tries to keep a healthy working relationship with the diverse Democratic caucus on Capital Hill disinclined to push past their median membership, but that's exactly why the White House needs to be better at pulling the debate further toward reform: Congress is unable to do so with any consistency.
The other thing to keep in mind, though, is that national polling does not translate directly into legislative success; as well we've learned, it's possible for minority views to exert disproportionate influence in Congress. While I imagine many observers will see this data as confirmation of the "Obama doesn't want real reform and doesn't try" school of thought, that's not really true either and progressives have a lot to like in this new law.
-- Tim Fernholz
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