Remember the Good Old Days When Republicans Cared Nothing for Public Opinion?

It wasn’t that long ago — only a little over a year. Now, you can add public opinion to the growing list of Principles Republicans (Now) Hold So Dear (emphasis is in original):

One Republican leader after the next stood up yesterday to depict the health care bill as a grave threat to democracy because it was enacted in the face of disapproval from a majority of Americans.  Minority Leader John Boehner mourned:  “We have failed to listen to America.  And we have failed to reflect the will of our constituents.  And when we fail to reflect that will — we fail ourselves and we fail our country.”  GOP Rep. Mike Pence thundered:  “We’re breaking with our finest traditions . . . . the consent of the governed.”  That the health care bill destroys “the consent of the governed” because it is opposed by a majority of Americans has become the central theme of every talking-points-spouting, right-wing hack around.

Of course, these are the same exact people who spent years funding the Iraq War without end and without conditions even in the face of extreme public opposition, which consistently remained in the 60-65% range.  Indeed, the wholesale irrelevance of public opinion was a central tenet of GOP rule for eight years, as illustrated by this classic exchange between Dick Cheney and ABC News‘ Martha Radditz in May, 2008, regarding the administration’s escalation of the war at exactly the same time that public demands for withdrawal were at their height:

RADDATZ: Two-third of Americans say it’s not worth fighting.

CHENEY: So?

RADDATZ:  So?  You don’t care what the American people think?

CHENEY: No. I think you cannot be blown off course by the fluctuations in the public opinion polls.

For years, the explicit GOP view of public opinion was that it is irrelevant and does not matter in the slightest.  Indeed, the view of our political class generally is that public opinion plays a role in how our government functions only during elections, and after that, those who win are free to do whatever they want regardless of what “the people” want.  That’s what George Bush meant in 2005 when he responded to a question about why nobody in his administration had been held accountable for the fraud that led to the Iraq War:  “We had an accountability moment, and that’s called the 2004 elections.”  Watching these same Republicans now pretend that public opinion must be honored and that our democracy is imperiled when bills are passed without majority support is truly nauseating (of course, Democrats back then protested Cheney’s dismissal of public opinion as a dangerous war on democracy yet now insist that public opinion shouldn’t stop them from doing what they want).

Author: KATHY KATTENBURG

16 Comments

  1. Kathy, I think we are 50% in agreement. As I noted in my previous post, Republicans were recently the party of doing what's right regardless of whether it's popular. Now the Democrats are playing that role.

    I'm curious — did you look to see whether Democrats criticized Bush and Cheney for failing to listen to the American people about Iraq? I can't provide citations off-hand, but I feel like “ignoring the people” was one of the main Democratic talking point on Iraq — whereas today, it's all about the courage to ignore the polls.

    If you want to be fair and balanced, I think you have to do the legwork on both sides of the issue.

  2. During the Bush years, the GOP tried desperately to create a reality that the public would buy. There were 4-5 differing rationalizations for invading Iraq, none of which really explained what we were really doing there. There were also campaigns by the Bush WH and their allies in the media to paint critics as unpatriotic or as terrorist sympathizers.

    When Bush/Cheney lost credibility with the American people, they pretended that they were unconcerned with public opinion. But, for Bush it was an act— he wanted to be loved by the public. That's why the last year of his administration was spent concentrating on his legacy.

  3. As an American I'm embarrassed by all that republican wailing and gnashing of teeth. I suggest they take a timeout, engage in some self-examination, maybe try a little meditation.

  4. The Republican behavior on this whole bill has been really disappointing to me. I have issues with the bill and I strongly respect those who have even stronger objections, since people of good intent can have legitimate disagreements.

    But the hard line attitude of many on that side of the aisle is idiotic.

    At the same time the attitude of some on the left make it tough for me to be on their side too.

    Ah politics..

  5. Patrick, I agree. On the one hand, you have an unnamed GOP Congressman yelling “baby killer!” at Rep. Bart Stupak who (ironically) has caught more fire for his principled stand against abortion than any other Democrat. On the other hand, you have NOW putting out a press released roundly condemning President Obama for his executive order upholding the Hyde Amendment. (BTW, the comment thread on that CNN.com article was running two for one against the NOW position, and many who decried NOW also said they were pro-choice).

    Kathy, I love those words quoted from Cheney. The shoe is definitely on the other foot now, and the Republicans don't like it. Good for the Dems — Nice to see Democratic leaders (however begrudgingly) finding a middle road on this issue.

    P.S. — I found it interesting that the cartoon this morning showed health care as a newborn baby.

  6. Thanks for the kind words Redbus

    As I've said many times before, I'm strictly black cat/white cat on this issue. I do not care what system solves the problem as long is the problem is solved.

    I have concerns about the current law (or soon to be current) but with any luck they will fix the flaws.

    Although I am not sure I would support it I'd like to at least see serious investigation of the public option or single payer system

  7. Actually the argument is Bush and Cheney's, we spread democracy since they are less likely to spread war and invasion due to its lack of popularity. Then they continued to ignore their own, it was rather amusing for a few years.

  8. David, I don't have to “look to see” whether Democrats criticized Bush and Cheney for ignoring the American people — about everything, not just Iraq. I know that they did. I know that I, as a progressive liberal, did.

    Here's the difference, though. The public opposition to the Bush administration's policies — specifically, if you wish, Iraq — was driven by genuine disapproval of the war — for many different reasons, but the discontent was real. The “public opposition” to health care reform is and has been — as my quotes suggest — largely manufactured by Republicans. The Republican Party has continuously, constantly, and repeatedly lied and misrepresented what was in the bill. Republican operatives and groups run by Republican operatives (like Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks, among others) helped to organize those “town meetings” behind the scenes while claiming they were spontaneous grassroots protests. The verbal and physical violence at those meetings was carefully orchestrated, and it was encouraged both explicitly and implicitly by the Republican leadership with lies and scare tactics that had no basis in truth.

    Republicans and conservatives have also consistently misrepresented what public unhappiness with health care reform *does* exist by selective and dishonest interpretation of polls, by ignoring context (like the fact that the vast majority of Americans never, at any point, knew what was in the HCR bill), and by attributing all the discontent to disapproval of this particular bill or to the very concept of health care reform. Consistently, Republicans and conservatives have dismissed any other explanation for the negativity in some polls, of which there are several; for example, the obstructionism in Congress, the amount of time it was taking, the dishonest and hypocritical way Republicans in Congress were casting the process, and more.

    And there is more. George W. Bush was put into office in 2000 by the Supreme Court in a highly contested and divisive election process. He was reelected to a second term with a razor thin popular majority. By contrast, Barack Obama was elected with a 52% popular majority after campaigning on a very specific and focused agenda, with health care reform being at the top of that agenda.

    Americans want health care reform. Health care reform is and has been a huge problem in U.S. society that has been getting worse and worse and that has been and is doing great harm to Americans' lives. In general, I think most people would agree that all Americans should have access to affordable, high-quality health care. It's a positive, not a negative, thing.

    By contrast, I very much doubt that a significant number of Americans wanted war with Iraq even before the U.S. invasion. They supported it once it did start, but even those who were most gung-ho about the war probably would not have said that war was a good or positive thing — or at least they would not have admitted to it. I think it is seriously misguided to compare public reaction to WAR — the most destructive, wasteful, horrifying enterprise in human existence — to public reaction to domestic legislation to reform the health care system.

    So, as you've no doubt figured out, I believe your analogy falls considerably short.

  9. Kathy,

    I wish to thank you for touching upon a point I have long tried to drive home: the Republicans have no one to blame but themselves for the Democrat victories in '08 and '08 and the subsequent health care debacle.

    I'm honestly not sure whether or not the wars (and public opinion thereof) played the largest role in the Republican defeat. I tend to attribute their loss to the “What health care crisis?!?” attitude which they displayed for years. I called NC Senator Liddy Dole's office in 2005 to explain why the ridiculous cost of health care was indeed a Republican issue, specifically because it was hurting small business owners such as myself. The flack on the other end of the phone actually said (and I quote), “Why don't you go get a real job?”

    You know that such an attitude had to have “trickled-down” from the esteemed Senator herself. It was shortly thereafter that I forsook the Republican Party and became an independent. And not long after that, the people of North Carolina told Senator Dole that it was SHE who would need to go find a real job.

    Had the pachyderms actually bothered to take some sort of action to help out lower-income workers and the self-employed regarding the issue of health care affordability/availability, I seriously question whether we would now be facing an uncertain future under Obamacare.

    But you are absolutely right when you point out that the arrogant Republican fools gave not a moment's care for public opinion. It really matters little whether indifference toward the wars, health care or some other issue of importance to the public was their principal Waterloo; after all, when one shoots oneself in the foot, it matters little which foot actually took the bullet . . .

    Jeff Dreibus

  10. This is another excellent point. The Bush administration lied and misrepresented to get Americans' support for the Iraq war. None of the justifications they gave for why war with Iraq was necessary turned out to be true or valid.

    Barack Obama did not lie about or misrepresent the seriousness of the problems with our health care delivery system. The health care system is broken. There IS no functioning health care system in this country. Obama did not make that problem up. It's real. So although reasonable people can disagree about the specific solutions, no one can reasonably deny the existence of the problem.

  11. I didn't read the NOW press release, but I do think it's a bit silly to “condemn” the Executive Order thing. As you say, it's just a reaffirmation of Hyde; there's nothing in it that isn't already in the Senate bill. I guess it gave Stupak some kind of psychological cover for agreeing to it, but if NOW was okay with the bill before the E.O., I don't know why they would be so upset now. Nothing has changed.

  12. Thanks for the kind words, Jeff, and for sharing your experiences. That's quite a story.

  13. Kathy:

    Your reference to Cheney's infamous “So?” happens to be the subject of my very first post on TMV many, may moons ago.

    Even though I say so myself, it's still applicable today as it was those many moons ago, and you explained it well.

    Dorian

    http://themoderatevoice.com/18772/guest-voice-d

  14. Well, I'm glad we agree on a few basics. As you say, the Dems criticized Bush and Cheney for ignoring public opinion, but now support healthcare in spite of public opposition.

    The new element you introduce in your comment is the suggestion that the American people have been tricked into opposing healthcare.

    From where I stand, the argument that the public has been misled is one of the last resorts of those who can't admit that their side just couldn't make a compelling case.

    A few years ago, there were plenty of Republicans who insisted that Democrats' exaggerations and one-sided media coverage were responsible for the public turning against the war in Iraq. Just as Democrats today can point to various dishonest or unsavory things Republicans have said about healthcare, those Republicans could point to similar things said about Bush and the war.

    Now, I don't expect to persuade you that the public has legitimate reasons for opposing healthcare reform (cost controls, taxes, deficits, etc.) But I will give you a chance to persuade me that your assessment that the public has been misled reflects detached analysis more than it does partisan defensiveness.

    Can you name a significant instance in which the Democrats misled the public into opposing a good Republican idea?

    Can you name a significant instance in which the public was well-informed but still opposed a Democratic proposal?

    Basically, I'm trying to figure out if you believe that the public is only misled by Republicans, and only opposes Democratic proposals when it is ignorant or misled.

  15. As you say, the Dems criticized Bush and Cheney for ignoring public opinion, but now support healthcare in spite of public opposition.

    No, that's not an accurate characterization of what I said. My point was not that the Democrats now support health care reform in spite of public opposition. My point was that it's not true that a majority of Americans oppose health care reform.

    The new element you introduce in your comment is the suggestion that the American people have been tricked into opposing healthcare.

    Not exactly. First, your implicit assumption that most Americans DO oppose health care reform is, in my view, false. Second, if we agree that some percentage of the public does oppose health care reform, it's difficult and sometimes impossible to tell WHY they oppose health care reform, or what it is about this particular health care reform bill that they oppose. Conservatives have jumped to an unfounded conclusion when they claim negative answers on polls to questions about health care reform necessarily mean dislike of this particular bill or of health care reform in general. The questions simply aren't specific enough.

    Having said that, some polls have measured people's responses to questions about health care reform in two parts: w/o providing any details of what this hcr bill provides, and with such provision. Those polls have shown that when people are told what is actually in the bill, their approval rises.

    In addition, the most controversial part of health care reform — the public option — has consistently polled high in public opinion polls. The controversy is in D.C., not among the public. Although it did not make it into this bill as passed, it IS very popular among ordinary Americans.

    From where I stand, the argument that the public has been misled is one of the last resorts of those who can't admit that their side just couldn't make a compelling case.

    Yes, I agree — but only if you cannot back up claims that the public has been misled with actual supporting evidence. There is abundant, overflowing amounts of objective, incontrovertible evidence that opponents of health care reform in Congress and in Republican power circles in general have brazenly lied about what was and is in the health care reform legislation over the past year. Even more important, though (or just as important), there is strong evidence that large segments of the public have actually bought into these lies and believe them. When you ask ordinary Americans why they oppose health care reform, and they say, “Because it's a government takeover,” or “Because it's socialism,” or “Because Hitler did these same things before he came to power,” or “Because they're going to have death panels where the government decides who lives and who dies,” or “Because they're going to take away the insurance I already have, which I want to keep,” and any of at least a dozen other total falsehoods — when these are the reasons people give for opposing health care reform — then it's rather obvious that they got these false notions from Republicans and conservatives. After all, we've all read quote after quote and seen video after video of Republicans saying exactly these things, long after they were debunked.

    A few years ago, there were plenty of Republicans who insisted that Democrats' exaggerations and one-sided media coverage were responsible for the public turning against the war in Iraq. Just as Democrats today can point to various dishonest or unsavory things Republicans have said about healthcare, those Republicans could point to similar things said about Bush and the war.

    Except that what opponents of the Iraq war — liberals, Democrats — were saying about the Iraq war, and what the media was reporting about the problems both with the war itself and with the arguments used to get us into it were true. They weren't exaggerations, and they weren't “one-sided coverage.” In fact, when it comes to that, the media — at least the major media — were far more likely to meekly write down what the Bush administration told them without any attempt to question it, than they were to do any real journalistic investigation.

    The bottom line here is that the Bush administration never had any facts to back up their claims that Democrats and liberals were lying or distorting or exaggerating. They just said it, and never even came close to proving what they said. By contrast, Democrats and liberals now, in the context of health care reform, have tons of explicit, specific, incontrovertible, objective evidence that the Republican and conservative opponents of health care reform have been using lies, misinformation, and really extreme fear tactics to turn Americans against health care reform. And even at that, they have not been nearly as successful as they would have wished.

    Basically, I'm trying to figure out if you believe that the public is only misled by Republicans, and only opposes Democratic proposals when it is ignorant or misled.

    No, David. My mind doesn't work that way. I believe that the public is being misled when, by objectively demonstrable evidence, it's being misled. If it seems to be mostly Republicans who do that at the present time, I'm not creating that reality. There have certainly been many times in our history when the public has been misled by Democrats or liberals.

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