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The Wisdom of the Public | The Nation

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The Notion

Unfiltered takes on politics, ideas and culture from Nation editors and contributors.

The Wisdom of the Public

It's been a rough week for those of us who believe that only a tiny minority of Americans hold ludicrous and outrageous views. As this distressing survey by Public Policy Polling revealed, the belief that Barack Obama was born outside the United States is inching toward becoming a majority view among Republicans (43 percent are on board). The belief that George W. Bush let 9/11 happen to justify marching the US into war is espoused by one-in-four Democrats.

So it's true: a lot of Americans in both parties are willing to believe wacky and irrational things about their opponents. It's apparently not enough to judge someone misguided or erroneous. One has to see either Bush or Obama as the Anti-Christ (a view that curries favor among roughly ten percent of voters).

But before too much despair sets in among people who consider themselves rational-minded, take a look at the CBS NEWS/New York Times poll on health care and Afghanistan published today. According to the poll, 76 percent of Americans believe Republicans have not explained their plans to overhaul the health care system. And 59 percent believe Obama has not clearly explained his plans.

Most people, in other words, rightly sense that nobody is giving them straight answers. Obama hasn't clearly explained why his plan won't simply force people to fork out billions of dollars to health insurance companies. Republicans haven't explained their plans because they don't have any.

Meanwhile, the effort to scare voters into believing a "public option" would mark the death of freedom and onset of Soviet-style socialism has utterly failed. 26 percent of Americans oppose allowing a government-administered health insurance plan like Medicare to compete with private plans. 65 percent favor this. The problem is not that too many Americans are deluded and misinformed. It's that nobody in Washington appears to be listening to them.

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