They were confident that the stimulus would prove popular with voters. They must have been puzzled when it didn’t—and when the idea of bailing out underwater homeowners generated not demands for government aid but the formation of the Tea Party movement.
The Obama Democrats may have been puzzled as well when initial poll numbers showed majorities against Obamacare. In a time of economic distress, weren’t Americans interested in getting free stuff?
This assumption ignored the fact that most Americans were not displeased with their current health insurance arrangements. And it overestimated the amount of sympathy that could be generated for the relatively few who couldn’t get insurance because of pre-existing conditions or unanticipated accidents.
In retrospect, it’s also plain that the Obama Democrats underestimated the difficulty of creating a workable framework for governance of the the health care sector, which makes up one-sixth of the economy.
They had evidently read too much Arthur Schlesinger on the glories of the New Deal and too little Friedrich Hayek on the futility of central planning in a complex society.
So they forged ahead with their legislation even after the American people, through the unlikely medium of the voters of Massachusetts, said, “Please don’t pass this bill.” People would get to like it—and to know what was in it—after it was passed.
Looking back, it seems that most Americans instinctively shared Hayek’s skepticism more than they hankered for Schlesinger’s celebration of big government.