Americans are now seeing the damage that polls and focus groups can inflict on White House decision-making. President Barack Obama is no longer shaping the public dialogue on health-care reform. Instead, he is losing control of his agenda and resorting to rhetorical tricks and evasions.
Every administration has to take into account public opinion. Without doing so, Abraham Lincoln said, little can be achieved. But too much polling doesn’t raise presidential vision. It narrows and pulls it down. Substituting a weekly dose of opinion surveys for thoughtful consideration is causing White House aides to find new scapegoats whenever administration policy initiatives get into trouble.
We see this on health-care reform, which the president’s pollsters told him—six months into the debate—he must instead call “health insurance reform,” a phrase he repeated five times in his prime-time news conference and at least 20 times in five days of appearances since.
The problem is many Americans remember Mr. Obama started his health-care push by focusing on covering the uninsured and reducing costs, not knocking insurance companies upside the head.