Opinion Extra

Teepen: Public support for health care reform

The Democratic faint-hearts in Congress may find their fragile courage bucked up a bit by recent polling.

The party's conservatives spent the summer's storms over health care reform shying at every clap and roll of thunder in the tumults stirred up by right-wing operatives and made by them to sound like the voice of the people in primal scream.

'Tain't so, as it turns out. Updated polling finds most of us pretty much in line with the principles and means for the health improvements set out by President Obama.

Crucially, the public endorsed the most contested of proposed reform features - the so-called public option, a government-administered health plan that the president favors as a price-check on private-plan costs - by a whopping 65 percent to 26 percent. (The other 9 percent were the don't-know, don't-care rump.)

The alarmist cries of socialism afoot don't seem to have produced the intended hysteria.

By the twisted definition pushed by reform opponents, such familiar programs as Medicare, Medicaid, the Children's Health Insurance Program and the Veterans Administration are all socialized medicine. But the sound of that somehow doesn't land right on American ears, and the public, although presumed by conservatives to be a ready dupe for Karl Marx, hasn't called him in for an audition.

Most folks can tell the difference between actual socialism and the phony, boogeyman version dangled by conservatives to scare the kiddies. And the same poll found, too, that only 30 percent of the public has bought the lie that proposed reforms would insure illegal aliens and only 26 percent the lie that "death panels" would be set up to kill the elderly if their care becomes inconveniently costly.

The New York Times/CBS poll reported that when asked "Regardless of how you usually vote, who do you think has the better ideas about reforming the health care system?", 52 percent said President Obama and 27 percent congressional Republicans.

An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found basically the same. When asked "Do you approve of the way Obama/the Republicans is/are handling health care reform?", 45 percent backed Obama, 21 percent the Republicans.

For all the noisy a-ginner crowds turned out here and there by right-wing radio and TV pitchmen and the cheerleading Fox News, it looks as though the dug-in opposition to health reform, in its general legislative outline, is little more than the hard-core Republican base.

That doesn't mean the president and reform will prevail. Polls aren't politics.

Special interests with big money at stake in the status quo are in the field. Many congressional Democrats are afraid of their shadows. Republicans are deeply invested in the proposition that defeating the Democrats' health care changes will set up Republican victories in the congressional elections next year and in the presidential election in 2012.

Maybe. But there's an attention-getter for both parties in one more finding from that NBC/WSJ poll. When asked who's to blame if health care reform doesn't pass this year, 10 percent said the president, 37 percent said congressional Republicans. Now, that's politics.