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Populist Fantasies

Commentary's Jennifer Rubin offers up a good example of the populist delusions sweeping the Republican Party. She gloats over the latest Washington Post poll:

Simply put, what this and other polls tell us is that Americans don’t like what Obama and the Democrats are doing. It is the substance of their agenda that is unpopular. They don’t mind “gridlock” — in fact, they seem to welcome it, if the alternative is more of what they have seen coming out of Washington.

Actually, the poll in many ways says the opposite of what Rubin claims. On the health care plan -- which Rubin, an hour earlier, ludicrously claimed that "70 percent of the electorate hates" -- voters are actually almost split, with 46% in favor and 49% opposed. By a 46% to 41% margin, voters trust Obama over Congressional Republicans to handle health care reform. Obama actually maintains a small margin on trust on every issue cited in the poll.

Do voters "welcome" gridlock? Well, by 63%-34% the public believes Congress should keep trying to pass "comprehensive" health care reform. The poll asks, "How often do you think Republicans in the Senate should use their power to block legislation proposed by Obama and the Senate Democrats - almost always, a great deal of the time, just some of the time or rarely?" The first two categories combine for 25%, the last two for 68% -- hardly an endorsement of gridlock. By a nine-point margin, voters think Obama is compromising the right amount, or too much, with Republicans. By a twenty point margin, they think Republicans are doing too little to compromise with Obama.

Now, let's be clear. Public opinion is complicated, and part of the complication is that people want things that can't happen -- a focus on reducing unemployment along with an immediate balanced budget that has no tax hikes on anybody but the rich, a comprehensive health care reform bill with bipartisan support but no revenue mechanisms.

There is also a wave of anger sweeping the country, which honest conservatives will admit owes itself primarily to economic conditions. That wave is going to hurt the party in power. Republicans want desperately to believe that this reflects the public's deep and fundamental agreement with their agenda. There certainly are some ways in which this is true. But it's nowhere near as close to being true as the GOP fantasists claim.