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Americans Hate It When Mommy And Daddy Fight

Liberals have been making the case for months now that the fact of the legislative process is responsible for much of the public's distonent with health care legislation. The message that comes through is wrangling, negotiation, and a general sense of failure. Via Ezra Klein, two political scientists explain why this turns people off:

In their book "Stealth Democracy: Americans' Beliefs About How Government Should Work," the political scientists John Hibbing and Elizabeth Theiss-Morse use focus groups and voluminous survey data to show that people don't know much about policy and don't care much about policy. Instead, they believe in broad goals for the country, and they think that political actors working in good faith could accomplish those goals with a minimum of disagreement if they were interested in doing so.

People believe that Americans all have the same basic goals," write Hibbing and Theiss-Morse, "and they are consequently turned off by political debate and deal making that presuppose an absence of consensus. People believe these activities would be unnecessary if if decision makers were in tune with the (consensual) public interest rather than cacophonous special interests."

Disagreement and deal-making, in other words, signal something going wrong in the political process. They signal that legislators aren't acting in service of the common-sense consensus of the American people, and are instead serving special interests.

These finding square with something pollster Mark Blumenthal wrote recently:

News coverage focused, as it often does, on the horse-race aspects of the legislative process, and that helped spawn a "holistic" view of reform that a Democratic pollster friend of mine heard repeatedly in focus groups of independent voters: "One, Republicans all hate it, and the Democrats cannot agree what to do, so how good can this proposal be? Two, it's going to cost a trillion dollars? We're spending too much already. Three, my insurance is pretty good right now; I really don't want to lose what I have."

This is not the whole of the problem, but it's a significant chunk. The legislative process, and specifically the failure of Democrats to agree, have convinced people the bill is bad. Passing the bill won't solve all the problems or undo all the damage. But it does give Democrats a different and clearly better content in which to explain the virtues of the bill. If it fails, it's a loser bill that not even the Democrats could stomach. And they voted for it! That's the weakest possible position to be in.