Steve Chapman

On health care reform, it's not clear what he could have done differently to appease a notoriously demanding citizenry. Surveys indicate people think that if his plan passes, they will get "worse care at a higher cost," says Rivers. What do they expect if his plan doesn't pass? "They'll get worse care at a higher cost."

I wish I could say Americans' suspicion of health care reform shows a sensible appreciation of the limits of government power and responsibility. But I suspect the real problem is they fear it will not guarantee them everything they want at someone else's expense. Rivers notes that when you ask people about specific components of the plan, they turn out to be "fairly popular."

If Americans distrust the government, they also take a dim view of the private sector, or parts of it. "Anything negative for insurance companies is popular," says Rivers. Most people blame insurers for rising health care expenditures, even though insurance companies are one of the few constituencies with a powerful interest in reducing outlays.

This is not really quite the contradiction it may appear. People don't mind when national health care costs rise. They do mind when their personal health care costs rise. When that happens, they blame health insurers. They may also blame the president, even if costs were rising before he arrived and threaten to keep rising long after he leaves.

It's a mistake to think every political trend has deep meaning. Most of the disillusionment with Obama is the result of a natural process that tells nothing about the future. Every honeymoon ends, but the end of the honeymoon is not a harbinger of divorce.

The good news for Obama is that he has lost ground with the electorate mainly because of things he can't control. The bad news for Obama is that making it up will require the help of things he also can't control.

Steve Chapman

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

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