The Politics of Doubt

Seal_of_the_United_States_House_of_Representatives.svgLast week Republicans in the House of Representatives voted for the 37th time since 2011 to repeal the Affordable Care Act either in part or in full. On the surface it seems to be a totally unproductive maneuver. After all, the highest court in the land has upheld the legality of the Affordable Care Act. You would think Republicans would accept that fact and just get on with other things. Instead, the House has devoted considerable time, resources and public funds to mounting these unrelenting attacks on “Obamacare.” The spotlight is trained on this issue again and again, seemingly without end.

Democratic leaders have harshly criticized this most recent vote. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid stated,

Albert Einstein defined insanity as follows: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. If his definition is true – and I won’t argue with Einstein – then House Republicans have truly lost their minds.

This vote, like all of the previous ones, is bound to go nowhere. No parallel bill would have a chance of passing in the Democratically controlled Senate, and President Obama has said that he would veto the bill if it came to his desk. So why go through this exercise in futility?

ACA Cartoon

As Sarah Kliff reported recently in The Washington Post, there is a method to this seeming madness. It has to do with creating doubt in the public’s mind about the status of the Affordable Care Act. She cites a recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation reporting that

kff-logoFour in ten Americans [are] unaware that the ACA is still the law of the land and is being implemented.

A more detailed breakdown of this figure shows that 7% of Americans think the Act has been overturned by the Supreme Court, 12% think Congress has repealed it, and another 23% are uncertain of its status.

These numbers suggest that continuing Republican criticism of the Act and ongoing attempts to repeal it lead people to believe the Act actually has been or should be repealed.

Kliff goes on to note recent academic studies that demonstrate this exact tendency.

[W]hen regulations seem like they might get repealed, people resist them aggressively. When the new restriction appears to be set in stone, however, [people try] to think through why the regulation isn’t, in fact, all that bad.

Kliff provides an example saying,

There was a great study on this phenomena last year that used speed limits as a restriction. It found that research subjects were generally okay with the new regulation, unless they were told there was a chance the city council would repeal it. Add that information in, and opinions about the law became significantly more negative.

So the tactic of holding 37 votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act does not seem to be such a futile exercise after all. The politics of doubt shows that there is much to be gained by such a tactic.

Keeping media attention trained on attempts to repeal the Act – even if they are unsuccessful – creates increasing doubt in the public mind about the Act’s legitimacy. The more the Act is attacked in Congress, the more people come to believe that it should be repealed.

As Kliff states at the end of her article,

It’s easy to write off the repeal votes as inconsequential but from a policy standpoint they’re not.

Once planted, the seeds of doubt take on a life of their own.

About politspectator
Edward Clayton grew up in the US but has lived in Canada for the last 4 decades. He is a long time peace activist and committed to issues of social justice and good government. He reports on Canadian, American, and global politics from a Canadian perspective.

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