Widespread confusion not getting better

WIDESPREAD CONFUSION NOT GETTING BETTER…. Reflecting on a CBS News poll on health care reform in late July, the NYT noted, “Over all, the poll portrays a nation torn by conflicting impulses and confusion.”

That was five weeks ago. Matters have not improved.

Most Americans find the health care reforms being discussed in Congress confusing and say President Obama has not clearly explained his plans to overhaul the system, according to a CBS News poll released Tuesday.

Two in three Americans call the health care reforms being debated by lawmakers confusing; only 31 percent said they have a clear understanding of the proposed changes. Sixty-seven percent of those questioned said the reform ideas were confusing.

This evaluation cuts across party lines, with majorities of both Republicans (69 percent) and Democrats (58 percent) saying the current proposals are confusing.

Most Americans (60 percent) say the President has not clearly explained his health care reform plans. While slightly more than half of Democrats think Mr. Obama has clearly explained his plans, majorities of Republicans and independent voters say he has not.

Confusion, at this point, benefits opponents of reform. At a certain point, many people simply throw up their arms and say, “I just don’t know what to think anymore.”

That’s not a good thing — the more people are confused by an angry and muddled debate, the less likely they are to demand solutions to the broken system.

It’s analogous in some respects to a courtroom in which the defense wants to convince a jury to have reasonable doubts. In turn, conservative opponents of improving the system have a strong incentive to keep doing what they’ve been doing — scaring people with bogus arguments, hoping to further sow the seeds of confusion.

As for President Obama coming up short when it comes to explaining reform, I’m not sure what more the White House can do. In some respects, the president is limited in pushing one specific, detailed plan, since Congress has more than one proposal, and the Gang of Six has part of a monstrosity that’s been crafted in secret. The “Democratic health care plan” does not, in fact, exist in singular form. Obama would have loved to see Congress vote before the recess, making the sales pitch clearer and easier, but conservatives successfully pushed for delays.

But Obama hasn’t exactly been a slacker, either. Despite the delays on the Hill, the president has hosted town-hall meetings, held prime-time press conferences, delivered a gazillion weekly addresses on reform and his vision for the policy, sat down for media interviews, and posted all kinds of materials online for anyone to access whenever they want.

There’s certainly a reasonable case to be made that the president can, at this point in the process, start telling lawmakers exactly what he expects to be in the bill, and what he’s willing to negotiate away. Taking a hands-on approach may help produce stronger and quicker results.

But when it comes to explaining what reform is all about, I’m less sure what more Obama is supposed to do.