“Iteration, like friction, is likely to generate heat instead of progress.” – George Eliot

 

As the ridiculous government shutdown staggers into its second week, this morning’s cable news chatter was once again consumed with polls, political name-calling and a healthy dose of tongue-clucking over which side acts more like spoiled children. As usual, buried in all the blather was another throw-away aside about how the Affordable Care Act remains deeply unpopular with the American public.

This really matters, because now that the federal deficit is shrinking so quickly, the one and only justification offered for shutting down the government and potentially crashing the entire world financial system is the Tea Party’s obsessive opposition to Obamacare. If they’re wrong about public support for the ACA their whole argument is pointless.

Surprise! Contrary to conventional wisdom, most Americans support health care reform – and not just a little bit.  In no fewer than 11 separate CNN polls since March of 2011, a clear majority, (averaging 53%) either support the ACA or think it does not go far enough. Only 38% on average, oppose the law. These results are remarkably consistent over three years of intense polling.

Why didn’t you know that?  Because the honchos who run cable news don’t think you’re smart enough to understand nuance. When these results are reported, the roughly 12% who think we should go further toward national single payer healthcare get lumped in with conservative opponents. Most pollsters I’ve asked with say this makes no sense unless you’re Fox News or have a political ax to grind. But this simplistic baloney is reported ad-nauseam in the cable-TV echo chamber until it becomes accepted fact.

Today, over two-thirds of all Americans are against shutting down the government even “for a few days” to stop Obamacare – 68% to 27%. Taken together with the direct polling on health care, this ought to frighten the pants off any politician. It plainly terrifies the few rational Republicans left in the House, as well as Speaker Boehner and any Senate Republican not named Cruz.

President Obama knows this. That is why he is so comfortable holding a hard line. When the Tea Party back-benchers bloviate about the “will of the American people” the President knows it’s bovine scatology.  He also knows time is on his side.

But the Tea Partiers in the house don’t believe any of this. Maybe gerrymandered districts insulate them. Or maybe they only listen to Fox News or Rush Limbaugh, (or themselves). But maybe it’s because, like the rest of us, they actually believe the mindless hot air on cable news.

While the cables continue to chase ratings by broadcasting suit-and-tie food fights and a generous helping of train wrecks and two-headed cows, they are numbing our minds and deadening informed discussion. Here’s what the cable news can do for our country: More light and less heat.

“Balance” is a common refrain nowadays. So long as both sides get a fair hearing the thinking goes, the actual facts can take care of themselves. You can see where this leads. One side says the moon is made of green cheese, but some scientist says its rock and dust. “We report, you decide.”

There was a time when journalists were also the arbiters of truth. I remember vividly watching Walter Cronkite report from Vietnam that the U.S. was losing the war. He prompted an earthquake in our political culture and society at large by speaking the simple truth.

So next time some self-styled “political strategist” fills cable TV air-time with a rote rant about how Obamacare will destroy the country, why not have serious economists who have actually studied it discuss the economic models which give us reliable predictions? Turns out most economists and CEO’s believe there will be little if any impact, and that health costs might actually come down. Report that.

When a “Tea Party favorite” fumes about the “makers vs. the takers,” point out that Obamacare will make all those “takers” who can afford insurance, but refuse to buy it, ante up and pay their fair share? Or that insurance rates are actually going down for most people. Report that too.

And, just for the record, how about reminding your viewers that Barack Obama ran on health care reform in 2008 and won. The Affordable Care Act was passed by Congress, signed by the President and upheld by the Supreme Court. Then, despite an intensive negative campaign, mostly against Obamacare, the American people re-elected Barack Obama and returned a Democratic majority to the U.S. Senate. Case closed.

Cable news creates conventional wisdom. They have a duty to get it right.

A founding member of the leadership team of Barack Obama’s successful U.S. Senate race, Joe McLean managed Gov. L. Douglas Wilder’s historic election in Virginia, along with numerous statewide and congressional campaigns. He has achieved victories for corporate clients, rescuing some from the brink of extinction.

McLean, who is now senior partner at McLeanClark, served as president and CFO of a commercial construction company in Nashville, and is the fifth generation to raise cotton on the family farm in Quincy, Tennessee. He served as a legislative assistant in the Tennessee delegation and was a campaign-finance analyst with the clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives.

McLean lives in Washington, D.C., with his wife, Kiki McLean, and their two children.

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