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A Note to Blue Dog Democrats on Health Care and Pascal’s Wager

Michael Barone tends to be either very right or very wrong. Today, I think he’s wrong:

Obama and congressional Democratic leaders are blaming Republicans for their problem. Obama noted that Republican Sen. Jim DeMint and Weekly Standard Editor William Kristol want to “kill” the Democratic bills. But the Blue Dogs’ and Polis’ letters showed that the mortal threat comes from elected Democrats. Twenty-nine of the 57 letter signers defeated or replaced Republicans in 2006 or 2008. Thirty-three of them represent districts carried by John McCain in 2008.

What we’re seeing is the people speaking through their politicians. Obama and many Democrats assumed that the financial crisis would predispose most Americans to favor a larger and much more expensive government than we ever have had before.

Contra Barone’s assertion, there’s not really any evidence that health care reform is unpopular in the Blue Dog districts. Although there are exceptions, most of the Blue Dog districts are fairly poor. A Quinnipiac poll released earlier this month suggested that while 53 percent of voters overall think “think it’s the government’s responsibility to make sure that everyone in the United States has adequate health care”, 61 percent of voters making under $50,000 do. Also, while Quinnipaic did not break out the results for moderate and conservative Democrats, which are plentiful in these Districts, one can reasonably infer them. In this poll, 79 percent of liberals agreed with the statement as did 77 percent of Democrats — not a very big difference. Since almost all liberals are Democrats and about half of all Democrats are liberals, that suggests that support for health care reform among non-liberal Democrats is something like 75 percent.

But suppose that Barone is right, and that health care — or at least the current Democratic version of it — indeed is unpopular in these districts.

Well, then, Mr. Blue Dog, you have a problem on your hands.

You’re going to lose anyway.

If these voters are not capable of supporting health care, what other planks of the Democratic agenda are they going to support?

The carbon tax? Not rural, energy-intensive districts.

Maybe your constituents liked the bailout? Didn’t think so.

Perhaps they’re waiting for Obama to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act? Um, probably not.

The fact is, Mr. Blue Dog, there’s a good chance that the reason you’re in power is because George W. Bush was in power. When Bush was in power, you didn’t have to advance your party’s own agenda — you just had to block some of the more unpopular elements of his.

But you don’t have that advantage anymore. You’re going to have to endure at least two more elections with Obama as your President — and since the Republican candidates in 2012 are Dopey, Sleazy and Romney, probably four. You’re going to start having to find at least a few things to vote for.

And if health care isn’t one of them, it’s hard to see what else is, at least in your sort of district.

Maybe you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. But the only world in which you are popular enough to get re-elected is one which this bill is popular enough for you to vote for.


Nate Silver founded and was the editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.