President Obama told governors Monday that he endorsed the idea of states opting out of the Affordable Care Act as early as 2014 if they could offer similar coverage to as many people without inflating the deficit. In the president’s very public words, he would “go to bat for whatever works.”
The same day, the White House said something altogether different during an off-the-record conference call to allies on the Left. The flexibility stressed on the private conference call involved allowing single-payer plans and more purely government-run health care at the state level. A source who spilled the beans on the discussion to Politico observed: “They are trying to split the baby here: on one hand they tell supporters this is good for their pet issues, versus a message for the general public that the POTUS is responding to what he is hearing and that he is being sensible.”
What explains two very different messages on one day by the very same White House?
A recent “State of the States” Gallup poll sheds much to light on why the Obama administration’s media message would differ from its by-invitation only, off-the-record conference call. Gallup’s poll shows that the United States is a conservative country.
Even in the most liberal states—Vermont, Rhode Island, Massachusetts—conservatives outnumber liberals. In every state, liberal identifiers trail conservative identifiers. The ratio is about 2-1 in Pennsylvania, 3-1 in Wyoming, and almost 4-1 in Mississippi, the state where the largest percentage—over 50 percent—of the population identify as conservatives. Certainly, regions of the country differ. The South tends to be more conservative and the northeast relatively more liberal. But in 50 of 50 states, more respondents identify as conservatives than as liberals.
That hostile political environment for liberals fosters interesting self-preservation techniques.
Deception is a political survival mechanism for the Left. When large swaths of the country hear your political label as a term of derision, speaking your beliefs openly can be political suicide. So there is predictably a divergence between the message for enlightened insiders, like those on the conference call, and the one for the great unwashed. Though all politicians downplay their unpopular positions and highlight their popular ones, the Gallup poll suggests that liberal politicians need to do this more than others.
By now, politics watchers are familiar with the two faces of the Obama administration. The pattern involves loudly speaking out against an unpopular policy and then quietly pursuing that unpopular policy. For instance, the president is a vocal critic of deficits, but has presided over the most costly deficits in U.S. history. In politics, perception trumps reality.
Rather than spotlight the cornerstones of his agenda, the president has attempted to hide much of it from view. Scheduling the Obama Care vote for a weekend night in the House of Representatives and for Christmas Eve in the Senate took advantage of a distracted electorate to pass what the public found unattractive. Similarly, the lame duck session, one of the most legislatively productive periods for President Obama, exploited outgoing legislators at their least accountable and holiday-preoccupied voters at their least engaged.
Because a republican form of government imposes obstacles to governing against the will of the people, the Obama administration is in the position, especially now with fewer allies on Capitol Hill, of having to run an end-around on democracy to codify its agenda. Examples abound: the executive branch refusing to defend U.S. law, i.e., the Defense of Marriage Act, in U.S. court; injecting controversial end-of-life counseling into the Federal Register after legislators had rejected it; and imposing “net neutrality” through Federal Communications Commission edict after Congress balked. When the legislative process stalls, President Obama turns to executive orders, judicial legislation, and bureaucratic fiat.
While the White House clearly understands the political dynamics standing athwart its ideological vision, its most fervent supporters—the ones on the other end of that secret conference call—don’t. Disappointment unmoored from political reality regarding the administration’s failure to pass a single-payer health plan or to restore the Fairness Doctrine demonstrates the degree to which many activists misunderstand the desires of their fellow countrymen. The concentration of Democratic voters in ideologically affirming urban enclaves does much to further such delusions. For the Far Left, the public’s rejection of their ideas is explained away through diagnoses of “false consciousness” or, in the words of What’s the Matter with Kansas? author Thomas Frank, “self-denying votes” in which the Left’s natural constituency somehow gets tricked into voting Right.
But Gallup’s poll shows conservatives eclipsing liberals 42 to 20 percent in Wisconsin, 45 to 17 percent in North Carolina, and 43 to 17 percent in Missouri. And those are states that the president won in 2008. To loosely paraphrase a popular dating guide for single women, voters are just not that into the liberals. The Obama Administration’s attempts to announce one health-care policy to the public at a media event and another to its left-wing supporters on a clandestine call is a tacit acknowledgment of this.
Daniel J. Flynn is the author of A Conservative History of the American Left (Crown Forum, 2008), Intellectual Morons (Crown Forum, 2004), and Why the Left Hates America _(Prima Forum, 2002). He has appeared on Fox News, MSNBC, CNN, Sky News, PBS, CSPAN, and other broadcast networks. He writes a Monday column for_Human Events and blogs at www.flynnfiles.com.