Yesterday Michael Moore appeared on Oprah for a second time to talk about health care in America.
Setting aside my issues with Moore, what was striking about the episode was the extent to which Oprah herself has been converted to the cause. The format of the episode was stacked -- it was Moore and the Princeton health care economist Uwe Reinhardt against the head of the health insurance lobby -- and Oprah kept weighing in against the status quo. She even had her correspondent Lisa Ling (yes, Oprah has a correspondent) badger insurance companies Moore-style about specific cases in which viewers were denied care. Moore and Reinhardt obviously lean left, but the tone of the episode was much more populist than ideological and it went over very well with her audience. Maybe universal care is politically achievable after all?
Along the same lines, I was surprised by the poll findings on inequality highlighted by Harold Meyerson in the Washington Post:
It's no great achievement for a people to recognize that their nation's economy has tanked, but recognizing that their nation's class structure has slowly but fundamentally altered is a more challenging task. It's harder still for a people who are conditioned, as Americans are, not to see their nation in terms of class.
Which is why a poll released this month by the Pew Research Center reveals a transformation of Americans' sense of their country and themselves that is startling. Pew asked Americans if their country was divided between haves and have-nots. In 1988, when Gallup asked that question, 26 percent of respondents said yes, while 71 percent said no. In 2001, when Pew asked it, 44 percent said yes and 53 percent said no. But when Pew asked it again this summer, the number of Americans who agreed that we live in a nation divided into haves and have-nots had risen to 48 percent -- exactly the same as the number of Americans who disagreed.
Americans' assessment of their own place in the economy has altered, too. In 1988, fully 59 percent identified themselves as haves and just 17 percent as have-nots. By 2001, the haves had dwindled to 52 percent and the have-nots had risen to 32 percent. This summer, just 45 percent of Americans called themselves haves, while 34 percent called themselves have-nots.
The leftward shift in public mood in response to President Bush may end up being more significant than anyone realizes...