Steve Chapman

The reality is that either they don't know exactly what they want or they want things that are incompatible -- more benefits and lower costs, more regulation and less government, lower premiums and life eternal. They demand change while demanding the preservation of everything they like about the status quo.

Health care "reform" is hard because a given goal is likely to come at the expense of another. According to a recent George Washington University Battleground Poll, 41 percent of Americans think the main goal should be lowering costs. But they don't really mean it.

Lowering costs is easy: Just reduce benefits. But try that, and you'll be charged with plotting to ration treatment and set up death panels. What people generally mean when they say they want lower costs is that they want to pay less without getting less. Heck, yes.

The latest ABC News/Washington Post poll found that 51 percent of Americans don't want Congress to pass a health care bill this year, with only 44 percent favoring legislation. The longer the debate goes on, the less support there is.

Granted, many of them may have only the vaguest idea of what the legislation would actually do. Ignorance about government programs is often bliss, but in this case, complexity and impenetrability work against change.

Major changes in our economy and social welfare system need a broad public consensus, which does not exist on health care. Given that most Americans are happy with both the quality of care they get and their own insurance coverage, they see more to lose than to gain from any alteration they don't understand. Doing nothing is the default option.

Everyone regards the bill too hot or too cold, too big or too small, too soft or too hard -- never just right. When it comes to changes in health care, Obama is discovering, the average American is not Goldilocks. More like the princess and the pea.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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