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Caught In The Loop

Many Democrats, as always, are caught in their insular liberal information loop. They think the polls are bad simply because the economy is bad. They tell each other health care is unpopular because the people aren’t sophisticated enough to understand it. Some believe they can still pass health care even if their candidate, Martha Coakley, loses the Senate race in Massachusetts on Tuesday.

That, of course, would be political suicide. It would be the act of a party so arrogant, elitist and contemptuous of popular wisdom that it would not deserve to govern. ~David Brooks

Brooks may be right that liberals are consoling themselves with convenient, false narratives about what is happening, but if so they are certainly not alone in being caught up in “insular information loops.” It is very convenient for Republicans to believe that a Democratic push for health care legislation at this stage amounts to political suicide. Republicans tell themselves this because it tells them that their opposition will be vindicated in November, and they tell other people this because they very much want to goad the Democrats into doing just what they warn will be disastrous for their opponents.

Democrats have convinced themselves for years that the public overwhelmingly favors “health care reform,” which they pretty readily identify with their own ideas on what that reform should be, and now Republicans have convinced themselves that the public will not stand for passage of a health care bill. My guess is that both have been wrong in different ways, but the GOP is probably misreading the situation even worse than the Democrats. Republicans are betting heavily that a bill that is passed this year but which will not take effect for several more years is going to precipitate a massive public backlash in their favor. Democrats are assuming that the voters who handed them 14 Senate and 50+ House seats over the last two elections are not going to throw them out of power for doing more or less what they said they would do. Whose bet seems smarter?

It is strange to see Brooks advocating on behalf of popular wisdom and the public’s sense of equilibrium. When we have seen opposition from across the spectrum unite against the immigration bill in 2007 or the bank bailout in September 2008, Brooks has been on the side of the arrogant, elitist and contemptuous. As I mentioned a little earlier today, when the House heeded some of that popular wisdom and correctly voted down the TARP Brooks dubbed them nihilists. Somehow the nihilists of sixteen months ago have become the spokesmen of American common sense today.

Now it could be that enough constituencies oppose health care legislation as much as they opposed those other establishment-backed bills, and a good case could be made that opposition to health care legislation is being driven by the same distrust of concentrated power and wealth and the same dissatisfaction with an arrogant government that ignores the wishes of the people, and this could lead to the same kind of backlash. Of course, the TARP was rammed through later, which is one of the reasons why there is so much frustration and anger with that measure in particular. Even if we leave aside the flaws of the plan, the way in which it was imposed on the country and our representatives with no meaningful debate and no deliberation has generated tremendous resentment. In every other case involving major legislation that pitted entrenched economic interests and the political class against the public interest Brooks has dismissed the latter and aligned himself with the former, but suddenly he sees the virtue in heeding the voice of popular wisdom. Perhaps the majority should heed his warning, but Brooks is probably the worst conceivable messenger to make the case for trusting popular wisdom over elite consensus.

P.S. On an unrelated subject, this post is the 6,800th I have written and published since I began blogging over five years ago.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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