- - Monday, October 28, 2013

A fortnight after the government’s grand reopening, Americans have shrugged off the “evil” of the shutdown. The Democrats crafted their entire legislative agenda around a vow to resist delaying Obamacare, hoping that points collected from outraged voters could be cashed at the midterm elections. If voters don’t care about the shutdown a fortnight later, it’s hard to see how it would matter a year from now.

Overheated shutdown coverage in newspapers and on television screens has given way to intense scrutiny of the administration’s inability to build a simple website for implementing Obamacare. NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” mocked President Obama’s health care chief, Kathleen Sebelius, presenting a faux public service announcement that anyone having trouble logging in to healthcare.gov should “restart your computer.” If the public remembers anything from October 2013, it will be that Republicans correctly judged Obamacare as not ready for prime time.

Democrats fundamentally misread the public mood. When asked, in the abstract, few Americans say they like the “health care system.” Asked about the care they receive from their doctors, the response is overwhelmingly positive. A Rasmussen poll of likely voters released Monday found 82 percent rate their experience as good or excellent, reflecting how happy the average American is with his or her doctor. Health care administered by the Department of Motor Vehicles would likely be as satisfying as health care administered by the IRS. White House press secretary Jay Carney conceded Monday that Americans who like their doctor and health coverage will lose it unless it has Mr. Obama’s seal of approval. “So it’s true,” says Mr. Carney, “there are existing health care plans on the individual market that do not meet those minimum standards and therefore do not qualify for the Affordable Care Act.”

The bad news for Democrats is more than just about Obamacare. Measured by Gallup, 81 percent of Americans thought there was “plenty of opportunity” to get ahead in America 15 years ago. Under Mr. Obama, optimism has evaporated, with just 52 percent holding on to the American dream. The Pew Research Center found 80 percent of the public with a dim view of the government’s ability to do the right thing. That’s bad news for the party of big government with an uphill battle to retain control of the Senate in 2014.

If everything goes their way (a very big “if”), Republicans would pick up six seats next year. A University of Arkansas poll conducted during the shutdown showed Rep. Tom Cotton, a Republican, narrowly leading the incumbent Democrat, Mark L. Pryor, in Arkansas. Pre-shutdown polls showed Rep. Shelley Moore Capito a 14-point leader in her campaign to become the first Republican senator from West Virginia in almost six decades. In South Dakota, the departure of Tim Johnson has left that race open, and Mike Rounds, a former Republican governor, leads Rick Weiland, the Democrat, 52 percent to 38 percent.

The power of incumbency is the only reason Mark Begich, a Democrat, seems to have a chance to hold his Alaska seat. Mr. Begich’s fluke victory in 2008 resulted from partisan prosecutors obtaining a criminal conviction of Sen. Ted Stevens, a Republican, in a proceeding marked by misconduct so “shocking and disturbing” that an appeals court judge reversed the conviction of Stevens, who died several months later. Even as a convicted felon, Mr. Stevens lost by only a point. Races in Louisiana and Montana are equally tight.

The only thing clear now is that the government shutdown isn’t likely to be a key issue anywhere. That’s why politicians can afford to do what’s right, and leave expediency for another occasion. That means delaying Obamacare, for repeal later.