Joe Biden still doesn’t realize what the voters that Democrats have lost actually want

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The voters Dems lost don’t want what you think.

Joe Biden wants rural Americans to know he intends to treat them with “dignity.” And he delivered his message in the one forum that resonates most deeply with such people — Thomas Friedman’s column in The New York Times, of course.

It was an exciting change of pace for Friedman’s readers, who have come to expect turgid transcriptions of his tiresome discussions with Mideast taxi drivers or slavish stenography of Mideast satraps proffering “peace plans.”

“I think they just feel forgotten,” the president-elect said of the people who didn’t vote for him. And to make them feel remembered, he’s going to build “on ObamaCare, assuming it survives at all, with a public option [and] automatically enroll people eligible for Medicaid.”

So what Biden is saying is he is going to provide them with benefits they need and thereby respect their “dignity.” Another way of looking at it is that he is going to shower them and the rest of America with benefits it’s far from clear they want and support.

Only a decade ago, the threat of ObamaCare and the “public option” — code for introducing a top-down, government-run health system — was the accelerant in the Obama-Biden party’s ­calamitous 2010 midterm election loss that brought the activist phase of that presidency to an end.

We are told that a lot has changed, that the public likes ObamaCare now. Does it, though?

The astonishing unreliability of polling over the past decade — its manifest inability to measure the opinions of exactly those Americans Biden believes he can reach by expanding government in this fashion — may be providing the president-elect with a false understanding of the interests of the very people he acknowledges his party has failed to reach.

Without question, Dems have moved left on every question over that time, including health care. From their vantage point, ObamaCare remains an admirable first step, if a bit quaint, on the road to a single-payer system.

Biden says he is opposed to single-payer but largely as a matter of cost, it would seem: If his objections to single-payer were philosophical, then he would oppose a “public option,” as well.

For those who opposed it, Obama­­Care represented the greatest government intrusion in our time into the private economy — and something that was going to ­reduce an already messy health system into a horrible kludge.

Moreover, it was laden with liberal social engineering of a new sort — the sort that allowed Washington bureaucrats to order nuns to contravene the teachings of their own faith and mandate that they provide contraception to secular employees as part of their health-care plans.

This was big government vs. smaller government. And liberal culture war against religion.

Biden thinks they feel he’s “forgotten” them. But people who believe in limited government and conservative social values don’t think they were being forgotten. Quite the opposite. Their worldview was being openly challenged.

Here’s what many millions of them know: They know that Biden’s party doesn’t like them, that Dems believe the working classes “cling to guns or religion” (Obama) or are “deplorables” (Hillary Clinton). Spending $20 billion on broadband so rural hospitals can do better telemedicine isn’t going to fix that.

Nor will Biden’s classic list of top-down economic solutions — in Friedman’s words, Biden cited “energy, biotech, advanced materials and artificial intelligence as areas ripe for large-scale government investment in research.”

What may make a real difference is if the Biden administration displays real competence and assurance in handling the coronavirus vaccinations in such a way that the crisis is ameliorated and then ended — at which point Team Biden may benefit from a surge in positive emotions and the release of animal spirits that lead to a post-COVID economic boom and a 21st-century “era of good feelings.”

If Biden wants to do right by rural Americans, he can only do so by resisting the temptation to try to force them to move left.

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