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A couple of years ago I had lunch with Mickey Kaus and happened to mention something about his 1991 book, The End of Equality. The book sort of implicitly describes a deal in which liberals accept welfare reform and stop worrying about income inequality, and in return conservatives calm down and start to support increased spending on social programs that benefit everyone. The problem, I said, is that liberals pretty much did what he suggested, but never got anything in return.
Nonsense, he replied. Everything's right on schedule. We passed welfare reform in 1995, and now, a decade later, we're getting a start on national healthcare. And that's only happening because the white working class is less agitated about the notion that their tax dollars are all being hoovered up by Washington and then shoveled out to lazy malingerers.
That's not a connection I'd ever made. And yet....maybe. It might just be true. Today, though, Ron Brownstein marshals some survey evidence that it's not. In poll after poll, more people believe that Obamacare will make them personally worse off than will make them personally better off:
The problem, as on almost all issues relating to government's role, is centered on whites, particularly those in the working class....Just 18 percent believe the law will leave their family better off, compared to 38 percent who believe they will be worse off as a result.
....Gallup Polling in March 2010 found that while few whites expected to personally benefit from the law, a majority of them believed it would benefit low-income families and those without health insurance. That suggested they viewed health care reform primarily as a welfare program that would help the needy but not their own families.
....Democratic strategists have long viewed a program expanding access to health care insurance as a key to combating the widespread sense among whites, particularly those in the working class, that government only takes their money and redistributing it to the poor, without offering any tangible assistance in their own often economically-precarious lives. Instead, as the latest Kaiser Poll shows, the targets of that effort remain entirely unconvinced that the law will benefit them. Rather than ameliorating their skepticism that government will defend their interests, it appears to have only intensified it.
Basically, Brownstein suggests that working class whites continue to misunderstand their own interests. Obamacare will benefit them more than almost any other group, but a barrage of misinformation from the Glenn Becks and Rush Limbaughs of the world has convinced them otherwise. They continue to think that only other people will benefit.
Some of this is surely the fault of the Obama administration, which hasn't done enough to sell its own program. But it's also an indication, as if we needed yet another one, that welfare reform really didn't change public attitudes much at all. All the people who used to be convinced that their taxes were being funneled directly into the pockets of inner city layabouts are still convinced that's the case. Not much has changed at all.