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Still Waiting For A Backlash

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Economy perceived to worsen, but not the direction of the country

By Doug Thompson

Even I thought the backlash was finally beginning. Even I thought the borrowing was going to catch up with President Barack Obama’s administration, politically if not economically. I thought the “Tea Parties” were premature, but would still have a good chance of benefiting from the trend the party-goers were claiming to create.

Not yet.

Once again, let’s turn to Pollster.com. One month ago, 51 percent of Americans thought the country was going in the wrong direction. The number was rising. The reaction was setting in, or so I was beginning to think.

What a difference a month makes. About 3.7 percentage points of difference, in fact. That’s how far the percentage of people who think the country is headed in the wrong direction has fallen since May 17, according to the polls. The number’s still at 47.4 as of Monday.

The latest number of polled people who think the country’s on the right track has inched up to 44.5 percent. Therefore, the right track/wrong track lines are within 3 percentage points of touching each other.

This is incredible considering that Pollster.com’s analysis show a sharp uptick in the number of people who think the economy is getting worse. A majority of people polled, 52.4 percent, think that. The number who think the economy is getting better is rising, too, with fewer and fewer people left in the undecided category.

The Republican Party identification rally I wrote about a few weeks ago has stumbled. The number of polled people identifying themselves as Republicans got above 30 percent last month, though mainly at the expense of independents. Now the number of self-identified Democrats is holding as steady as ever at 37.8 percent while the number of independents is rising again. Republican numbers have fallen to 28 percent.

Whenever I’m at a loss about what conservatives should do or what the Obama administration should be criticized for, I go to the conservative blog “Power Line.” Monday’s headline was “Conservatives in the Wilderness.”

Ouch.

The only scrap of good news I can find for conservatives is that the number of people describing themselves as conservative is up to 40 percent, according to a Gallup poll. That’s nice, but the question is too vague. All you have to do to qualify as a “conservative” these days, for instance, is oppose the General Motors bailout. Apparently, you can easily be a “conservative” and not be a Republican. There’s no other explanation for the Gallup result and the declining popularity of the GOP.

Here’s the real crux of the GOP problem: It lost the Sarah Palin voter, and Sarah Palin can’t get them back. Working class whites abandoned the GOP when the recession hit for obvious economic reasons. Overnight, the party went down the tube. It can’t recover until and unless it gets those voters back. With Obama bailing out much of the auto industry-dependent Midwest, I don’t see that happening soon.

Looking for things to snipe at, I’d argue the administration’s biggest political problems are that the stimulus package is too scattershot and its commitment to reforming health care is too weak.

I’ll not repeat my same old criticisms of the stimulus, which can be summed up in one phrase: It’s a bailout for state budgets, not the economy. The health care reform debate is what bothers me. Our grossly inefficient system threatens to consume the rest of the economy but the reforms proposals we’ve seen so far are too “feel good” for me.

Robert Samuelson of Newsweek wrote: “The central cause of runaway health spending is clear. Hospitals and doctors are paid mostly on a fee-for-service basis and reimbursed by insurance, either private or governmental. The open-ended payment system encourages doctors and hospitals to provide more services — and patients to expect them.  … That’s the crux of the health care dilemma, and Obama hasn’t confronted it.”

Health care can be fixed. The Mayo Clinic, for instance, have doctors on a fixed salary. This takes away the incentive to see as many fee-based clients as possible.

That’s the type of measure that’s needed. Don’t hold your breath.

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