A few weeks ago, the Reform Party of California (RPCA) observed that the rhetoric in the House of representatives showed that the two parties were far apart with no basis for compromise on much of anything in evidence.[1] The disputes included disagreement over the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as Obamacare. Now that a partial government shutdown is in effect, republican rhetoric relies heavily on assertions of public support for the legitimacy of House republican’s position. The democrats are curiously quiet on this point. Given the penchant for both parties to spin facts and reality any way they wish, it is fair to ask exactly how much public support for the shutdown there is in unspun reality.

A poll released on October 1, 2013 indicated that about 72% of Americans opposed a government shutdown for failure to pass budgets, with 64% opposing a shutdown over the debt ceiling.[2] Assuming that data is real, a solid majority of Americans oppose a shutdown. Republican claims of legitimacy based on widespread public support are false. Some republicans shade their rhetoric by saying that most of their constituents in their voting districts are urging no compromise on blocking the ACA. Assuming that is true, and it could be, how does that fit into the larger context of how the federal government works and does that legitimize the shutdown?

The larger context includes the following. The republicans lost the presidential race in 2012. They lost senate seats in 2012. Republicans retained control of the House. Senators are elected by voters statewide, while many representatives are elected by voters in gerrymandered districts. The point of gerrymandering is to reduce political competition, which favors the party that draws congressional districts. Not surprisingly, the net effect of gerrymandering was protection of House incumbents in 2012.[3] That is exactly what gerrymandering is supposed to do in the two-party system.[4] Given that context, House republican claims to legitimacy are, on balance, not particularly credible. That claim from U.S. senators carries more weight – their voting districts are not gerrymandered.

The larger context also includes the state of people’s knowledge of what the ACA really is. In terms of what the public knows, there is confusion with opinions varying widely. One recent poll found that 30% of Americans believe that the impact of the ACA would be negative, while 50% felt it would be neutral and 12% felt it would be positive.[5] Another poll indicated that 25% of Americans believed they understood the ACA well and 33% felt they had little or no understanding.[6] Opinion can vary depending on whether one refers to the healthcare law as the ACA or Obamacare, but that evidence is anecdotal.[7] It is fair to say that at the least, there is widespread confusion or disagreement about what the ACA is and what its impact will be.

It is also fair to say that there are no obvious reasons to know what impacts the ACA will have because, e.g., until a few days ago the insurance rates and coverages for the myriad of competing plans were not even known. Thus, when democratic talking heads wax eloquent about affordable health care for all with no adverse impacts, they cannot know what they are talking about. Similarly, when the republican talking heads wax eloquent about the awful disaster the “failed” ACA will be, they cannot know what they are talking about.[8] It is too soon to draw any firm conclusions.[9]

When all things are considered as a whole, it is fair to say that pointing to public support as a justification for shutting the government down over the ACA is not persuasive. The public doesn’t want it. House republicans are not making a compelling case for legitimacy in the face of outright public opposition to a shutdown, widespread confusion about what the ACA actually is and a rigged electoral system that favors the very people who claim legitimacy of “the American people”. Those claiming legitimacy represent a minority, not the majority. Where is the legitimacy in any of this?


1. Link: http://reformparty.org/reform-party-of-california-commentary-colloquies-in-venom/.

2. Link: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-10-01/americans-by-72-oppose-shutdown-tied-to-health-care-cuts.html.

3. Link: http://www.governing.com/blogs/by-the-numbers/redistricting-gerrymandering-effect-2012-congressional-elections.html.

4. If the RPCA had its way, House and state voting districts would be gerrymandered to either increase competition or to be neutral or geographically compact. The fact that both parties gerrymander to dilute the power of political opposition and/or minorities is evidence that neither party is willing to compete head on in elections. They don’t want the competition. In turn, that is evidence that both parties put their own well-being and grip on power ahead of service to the public interest.

5. Link: http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2013/09/18/polls-give-both-sides-ammunition-in-shutdown-fight/.

6. Link: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2013/09/16/usa-today-pew-poll-health-care-law-opposition/2817169/.

7. Link: http://www.latimes.com/business/money/la-fi-mo-jimmy-kimmel-obamacare-affordable-care-act-20131001,0,1174482.story. Although anecdotal, this does fit with data showing that when some of the individual provisions of the ACA are explained, people tend to like those provisions, but when the law as a whole is discussed, approval decreases.

8. There may be credible evidence that health care costs for most people will increase significantly as part of the cost to insure millions of currently uninsured people (http://www.forbes.com/sites/theapothecary/2013/09/23/its-official-obamacare-will-increase-health-spending-by-7450-for-a-typical-family-of-four/; the author of the Forbes article is very hostile to the ACA and thus it is unclear if unspun data or the author’s ideology is speaking; the author is associated with the American Enterprise Institute, a hard core conservative, anti-government ideologue think tank). If costs do increase as right wing ideologues argue, an honest debate would be focused on whether Americans want to pay the price for that kind of social service for fellow citizens. Public opinion on that point is unclear. However, it would be fair to say that if the promises of lower healthcare costs that accompanied the passage of the ACA law turn out to be wrong, millions of Americans could feel misled, betrayed and/or angry. Absent some very good reasons, those reactions would be justified.

9. Link: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/03/us/despite-criticisms-health-care-laws-impact-on-jobs-is-still-unclear.html?_r=1&.