That's right, the Democrats did pass a health care bill that a plurality of Americans opposed. And it is in so many ways an awful piece of jumbled-up law. But it will not be the wedge issue that can in November deliver back to the Republicans those marginally safe seats now held by Democrats.
Here's why: Most of the health care reform won't go into effect until long after the 2010 elections. The Democrats are banking that the public will forget this as a news story and feel no real immediate impact in their lives. They're even hoping they might pick up some support, by virtue of some early provisions of the law that do go into effect this year, such as children being allowed to stay on their parents' health insurance into their mid-20s.
Many readers may be familiar with TV's Jay Leno when he airs a segment of his show called "Jay Walking." He asks passers-by on the street the most rudimentary questions -- such as "Who is the father of our country?" -- only to get answers like "Bill Clinton" (or perhaps "John Edwards," if the interviewees follow "Entertainment Tonight"). These comedy bits serve to illustrate that most people don't know or care much about politics.
There is also the added possibility that by November the economy will be somewhat on the mend. That could bolster the Democrats' election chances a bit more.
So what is the best way for Republicans to win possible swing races? The answer is to look back at the financial disaster that in the fall of 2008 scarred this nation almost as indelibly as 9-11 did. It's simply called too much debt and no money.
How do you turn tired concepts like these into something that changes an election? By making an analogy between the conditions that led to the sudden near-collapse of our financial system in just a few weeks in 2008 to the very real possibility that the same thing could one day happen to our entire national treasury. And you do it with paid advertising.
As a pollster, I can tell you this is the only way to get your message across in our multimedia world. I'm talking huge television efforts, all with the same message.
Here are a few examples of what the public does not know, but that would jolt them:
First, there's the massive acceleration in future debt that we've seen during the last year under the Democratic administration. Now add the assorted other programs that have yet to be introduced that will lead to even more debt.
Next, remind people that virtually every major federal government program ever implemented has ended up costing much more than initially thought. When Medicare was passed in the 1960s, it was estimated that it would cost $12 billion per year by 1991. Wrong. By 1991 it had reached $107 billion.
To be fair, these gross cost underestimations infect both sides of the partisan aisle. The Bush Medicare drug plan already has run well beyond its original estimates.
Then it will be time to tell the public who holds so much of our currency: China. Follow that with the news that many experts predict a housing and economic bubble-burst in the near future.
Who will be left holding the bag for our debt? It can't just be the so-called "rich people." Many of them are small entrepreneurs who will fold their tents and fire their five or six employees. They'll try to do the work themselves to make up for the additional taxes they'll have to pay.
It will be the average person who will bear the brunt of paying government debt -- debt increased by all of the legislation the current Congress has passed or has promised to, all in the name of helping the little guy and gal. There will be the threat of a looming "value-added" tax; increases in local and state taxes when their revenue dries up and Congress has nothing more in the till with which to help them; and user fees and other hidden revenue sources that will eat away at virtually every disposable dollar the so-called average American has in his or her pocket.
Trying to focus on a controversial issue like health care with an "Attention Deficit" public won't be enough to move their votes this fall. The way to go instead is to make vivid to Americans the reality of what is most threatening to them: a deep and sustained reach into their wallets.