The power or repetition, repetition, repetition

THE POWER OR REPETITION, REPETITION, REPETITION…. We’ve seen ample evidence in recent months that the public was turned off by the process of reforming the health care system. Whether these concerns were well grounded or not is a separate question, but the frustration has obviously been real.

Gallup, for example, published this result today:

Regardless of whether you favored or opposed the health care legislation passed this week, do you think the methods the Democratic leaders in Congress used to get enough legislation — were [they] an abuse of power, or were [they] an appropriate use of power by the party that controls the majority in Congress?

Abuse of power 53%
Appropriate use of power 40%
No opinion 7%

Substantively, this is bizarre. The “methods the Democratic leaders in Congress used” were entirely legitimate and above-board. Reform went through the committee process, had floor debates, passed both chambers, etc. There was literally nothing that constituted an “abuse of power.” Some of the side deals were unsavory, but (a) the deals were ultimately removed by Democratic lawmakers; and (b) the deals were entirely consistent with the way Congress has operated for more than 200 years.

Democrats promised voters they’d pass health care reform, they worked on health care reform for more than a year, and then they voted for it. That’s not “abuse,” it’s “a governing majority fulfilling its campaign promises.”

So, what explains the poll results? Greg Sargent’s take sounds right to me: “This suggests, I think, that the claim by Republicans and conservatives that Dems were going to ‘ram’ the bill through Congress via dictatorial fiat really succeeded in riling up people up a great deal — even though Republicans repeatedly used the reconciliation tactic themselves to pass ambitious legislation…. Moral of the story: Message discipline works.”

Does it ever. Republicans, in all likelihood, knew full well there was nothing untoward about a majority of the House and a majority of the Senate approving health care reform. But they kept hammering away at their message — GOP lawmakers decried the “sleazy” and “abusive” process, and conservative pundits echoed the sentiment. Mainstream outlets, obliged to pass along reports of debates, regardless of merit, covered the sausage-making process at a granular level, offering procedual coverage in a way that probably has no precedent in American history.

Casual news consumers, who don’t generally care about legislative procedures, were no doubt left with the impression that Dems were handling the process the wrong way. After all, that’s what “everyone is talking about.” They heard “something about this on the news.”

Fortunately, this will fade, and the public can start caring more about policy than process. But in the meantime, poll results like these are frustrating.