When Government Ceases To Be An Abstraction

shutdown__sign“Oh wait, don’t shutdown the monuments for millions of visitors.  That’s mean-spirited political theater.  Oh wait, don’t shutdown veterans benefits.  That’s un-American.  Oh wait, don’t stop protecting us against infectious diseases, food-borne illnesses and environmental catastrophes.  That endangers public health.  Oh wait, don’t delay passport and visa applications, bankruptcy court cases, small business loans and mortgage applications.  That hurts our economy.  Oh wait, don’t furlough workers in my home state who buy stuff from my home state businesses.  That hurts Main Street.  We only shut down a nameless, faceless abstract stereotype called ‘big government,’ not that stuff.”

This is the noise coming from the congressional Republicans who were reportedly “giddy” when they first shutdown the government, and now are blaming President Obama when confronted with the effects of an overwhelmingly unpopular shutdown.

Anatomy of the GOP Miscalculation

How did Republicans make such a massive miscalculation?  In large part, they misread public opinion polls that consistently say the American people want “less government spending.”   This emboldened them.

But what they apparently didn’t read were the public opinion polls that broke government down to its component services.  That research makes it clear that a majority of Americans absolutely do not want to cut government services.

According to one Pew Resarch poll, only 32% of Americans want to cut unemployment benefits, 24% want to cut aid to the poor, 22% want to cut environmental protection, 20% want to cut government research, 17% want to cut roads and infrastructure, 14% want to cut combatting crime, and 10% want to cut education.   The truth is, the fans of cutting government are a fringe minority of Americans.

It’s not just veterans and memorials that Americans want to protect.  A majority of Americans oppose cuts in any of the 19 major areas Pew asked about, and they most certainly don’t want to shut down those services altogether.

Obamacare:  Abstract v. Specifics

The same is true of the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare.”  As an abstraction, Obamacare faces some opposition, though less than most believe.  Only one in five (20%) Americans want to repeal it in its entirety, while a majority of Americans either want to keep it or strengthen it.

While there are concerns about Obamacare as an abstraction, a Reuters poll shows that the component parts of it are overwhelmingly popular.

  • Allowing 6.6 million young adults to be covered on their parents’ policies until age 26?  61 percent of American support it.
  • Requiring companies with more than 50 workers to provide health insurance for employees?  72 percent of Americans support it.
  • Banning insurance companies from denying coverage to people with pre-existing health problems?  82 percent of Americans support it, including 78% of Republicans.

If you think a government shutdown is unpopular, just try to shutdown Obamacare in 2014 or 2015.  As soon as Americans understand that repealing Obamacare would re-empower insurance corporations to deny coverage to their sick family members, friends, neighbors and co-workers, you would have 82 percent of Americans, and 78% of Republicans, up in arms.

Government in the abstract is quite unpopular, while government in the specific is quite popular.  If any good could come of this fiasco, it would be the Republicans learning this fundamental lesson about  the American people they represent.

– Loveland

Note:  This post was also re-published in Minnpost.

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