Odd Front-Page Optimism: "Public Opinion" Still Supports Obama-Care?

The Times brought out the reinforcements on the eve of the president's address to the nation to sell his floundering health care overhaul. Wednesday's lead story, a "news analysis" by Sheryl Gay Stolberg, came with the White House reporter's usual liberal spin, spinning straw into gold for Obama-care's prospects - "After Recess, Health Talk Steps Lively - Roar of Town Halls, Steady Public View."

The conventional wisdom, here and around the country, is that the centerpiece of President Obama's domestic agenda - remaking the health care system to cut costs and cover the uninsured - is on life support and that only a political miracle could revive it.

Here's why the conventional wisdom might be wrong:

While the month of August clearly knocked the White House back on its heels, as Congressional town hall-style meetings exposed Americans' unease with an overhaul, the uproar does not seem to have greatly altered public opinion or substantially weakened Democrats' resolve.

Really now? At NewsBusters, Noel Sheppard uncovered findings from a Gallup poll that makes Stolberg look behind the curve. There's also a new Associated Press poll out that finds the president's disapproval rating on health care has jumped to 52 percent.

Still, Stolberg saw reasons for optimism:

Critical players in the health care industry remain at the negotiating table, meaning they are not out whipping up public or legislative opposition.

Despite tensions between moderate and liberal Democrats, there is broad agreement within the party over most of what a package would look like. Four of the five Congressional committees considering health care legislation have already passed bills. Each would require all Americans to have insurance and provide government subsidies for those who cannot afford it. Each would bar insurance companies from refusing coverage for pre-existing conditions; imposing lifetime caps on coverage; or dropping people when they get sick.


None of this is to understate the magnitude of the task facing Mr. Obama as he begins a final drive for the legislation with a nationally televised address to Congress on Wednesday night. The size and complexity of the legislation, the deep partisan divide, the undercurrent of concern among voters about whether government is getting too big and intrusive, opposition from special interests - all create land mines that could still blow up the effort.

Stolberg cited a CBS poll while ignoring the Gallup numbers Sheppard uncovered.

But even after weeks filled with seemingly ominous portents for Mr. Obama's ambitions, there is evidence that public opinion remains basically supportive of him. Despite intense controversy over the "public option," a government-backed insurance plan that would compete with the private sector, a CBS poll at the end of August found that 60 percent of Americans still support the idea, down from 66 percent in July. And half the respondents to the poll said Mr. Obama had better ideas on health care than Republicans, down from 55 percent.

She forwarded happy talk from an unlabeled liberal, Ralph Neas:

And despite the fracas of August, the major stakeholders in the health care debate - hospitals, doctors, insurers and the pharmaceutical industry - have not abandoned the negotiations. Ralph G. Neas, chief executive of the National Coalition on Health Care and a veteran of Washington legislative fights, said this was especially significant.

Stolberg even spun poll findings that most Americans say Obama has not clearly explained his plans for health reform:

That is a problem for the White House, though it also presents the president with an opportunity to reframe the debate on his own terms. In his address on Wednesday, Mr. Obama has promised to outline what he wants to see in a bill; Republican leaders say the message from August is that Democrats and the president need to start over.