WASHINGTON -- President Obama faces just one problem as he tries to convince Americans that his health care plan will cut the budget deficit, lower medical costs and protect Medicare: They don't believe him.
Abraham Lincoln said, "You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time." Americans are by nature skeptical, and most of them know that when something sounds too good to be true, it usually is.
Many of them, particularly senior citizens, remember when the politicians first told them that Social Security would cost just a tiny portion of their take-home pay and would be self-supporting, or that Medicare would cost just a small portion of the federal budget. Now these programs threaten to engulf our economy in unfunded liabilities, costing trillions of dollars.
Fewer Americans believe the Democrats' claims that Obamacare will cost them just $940 billion over 10 years because they know full well that the government's previous entitlement cost forecasts were wildly and perhaps deliberately underestimated.
When The Washington Post asked 1,000 Americans last week about Obama's preposterous claims, they found Lincoln's admonition still rang as true as ever.
When asked what impact Obama's changes in the health-care system will have on the budget deficit, nearly two-thirds said they will increase it. Just 14 percent believe Obama's repeated claim that his plan will reduce the deficits, which may actually add more than $20 trillion to the national debt by the end of this decade.
Obama claims that nothing in his plan will require you to give up the health care plan you have now. But the Post found that "Most respondents said reform will require everyone to make changes whether they want to or not..." moreover, "only about a third said they believe the Democrats' contention that people who have coverage will be able to keep it without alterations."
As for Obama's claim that his health care plan will trim the deficit by $134 billion over 10 years, nearly two-thirds said they expected the budget deficit will mushroom under the changes he will implement.
Notably, senior citizens, who account for one in five midterm election voters, have been the most skeptical about Obama's exuberant claim that the new law's plan to chop $500 billion out of Medicare will not affect their benefits and health care.
More than six in 10 Americans 65 or older said they expect a much weaker Medicare program as a result of the cost-cutting that will be made under the new health-care system.
"Overall, seniors tilt heavily against the changes, with 58 percent opposed and strong opponents outnumbering strong supporters by a 2-to-1 ratio," the Post's poll reported.
Give these seniors some credit. They may be older than the rest of us, but they know you can't slash half a trillion dollars out of Medicare without cutting doctors, hospital services and benefits to the bone.
So no matter how many speeches Obama makes at political rallies, no matter how many times he promises that health-care costs will decline, the deficit will shrink, no one's medical care will change, and not a single existing benefit will be reduced, most Americans just aren't buying it.
While the news media have unduly focused on voter anger throughout this debate, this has really been a battle between two opposing views on the role of government in our society. And when the legislative debate was over and the smoke cleared, the chief complaint about Obama's plan had not changed a bit: "About half of all poll respondents said the plan creates 'too much government involvement.'"
Now the battle over health care moves into the political arena, where it will be fought out over the next seven months in the midterm elections.
But these elections will not only decide who controls the House and Senate next year, they could decide whether Obama's health-care plan remains the law of the land or is repealed and replaced by, well, a smaller, more targeted, less expensive, sustainable, market-oriented system.
A lot of Democrats who voted for this bill could lose their seats in the House and Senate, especially in states where opposition is much stronger than the national figures show.
In Indiana, for example, where a Democratic Senate seat will likely fall into the Republican column, just 37 percent of voters favor Obama's plan, while 60 percent oppose it.
The favor may lie with the Republicans this election year when the American people will finally get to have a final up or down vote of their own.