We are witnessing history in the making. After roughly 4 decades of liberals and radicals heckling and disrupting conservative speakers, the worm has turned. After roughly 4 decades of Democrats failing to protest the harassment of conservatives, they are now feeling the bite of conservative and independent voters at town hall meetings.
They complain that these protests are “organized” – not that they ever complain about the organized busing of union members and public employees to their rallies. They complain of “Nazi—like” protests, but never complained about the violent disruption of conservative speakers by Code Pink and other groups.
Democratic Congressmen and Senators are confused, frustrated and irate. These town hall responses are not part of the script of a public love fest. Only conservatives should be subject to public disrespect – not the liberal representatives of the people. Democrats understand the bussing in of supporters; spontaneous turnouts are a troublesome phenomenon.
One Democratic Congressman, Brian Baird, of Washington has cancelled his town halls and is hiding out behind a desk and phone at an undisclosed location. You dial in, respond to prompts, and then ask a question, which he may or may not answer.
The Democrats face two problems. First, they are trying to educate and inform the public on the President’s health reform plan, but they don’t know what’s in it. Even the President hasn’t read it. In a sense, to paraphrase President Clinton: “They are selling a pig in a poke,” or are they peddling snake oil? President Obama frequently misspeaks in arguing for his plan, which does not exist. He claims the AARP supports it, in an attempt to assuage the concerns of seniors that their health care will be cut off when they contract a terminal illness, the end of life issue.
The public was interested in answers to specific questions and not bromides or platitudes. The Democrats' ignorance showed through. The attendees sensed ignorance and fear in their Representatives and Senators. Indeed, the public is better informed that the elected representatives.
Technically, the Senate has not passed a bill, so the only proposal out there is the House Bill, which actually contains the provisions that are concerning the public.
The public is confused about the message. First, the proposal was for universal health insurance, then came health reform, followed by the need for economic security, and now it’s demagoging insurance companies. What is the proposal? The message seems to change with the response of focus groups.
Second, most Americans are happy with their health insurance plans. They may not like the raising premiums, co-pays, or gatekeepers, but they certainly don’t expect the federal government to improve their lot. They fear the proposed changes. No rational person, even if dissatisfied with their existing insurance plans, will trust the government, the government of Medicare, VA and military hospitals, the Post Office to provide a better system than competitive insurance companies.
I remember about 18 years ago at my previous institution that the President of the University decided to save a few dollars by scraping the university’s various health plans and going to a PPO that was known to be cheap, so cheap that many doctors refused to join its network. The faculty rebelled, even voting a motion of no confidence in the President. The Vice-President Finance had actually lied to me about the University’s plans.
Just like Congress, the administrators were not affected by the change because they had their own gold plated health plan. The public understands that if the plan isn’t good enough for Congress, then why should the public be stuck with it.
People don’t want their existing health insurance plans, in which they are comfortable, threatened.
What they’ve been told by the President doesn’t mesh with what persons who have actually studied the legislation have read. They hear of tax increases and deficits – from Democrats.
Health reform, like social security, is rapidly becoming the third rail of American politics. President Bush, with all the goodwill entering his second term, got nowhere with social security reform, eventhough the clock is rapidly running out on its fiscal solvency.
President Obama is speaking out almost every day on his/Congress’s health reform plan. Yet, the more he speaks, the greater the unpopularity. That is not a good sign for Democrats.
The turn out of opponents is spontaneous; conservatives normally do not publicly protest or rally. Instead, the silent majority normally expresses its views at the ballot box. The Democrats should worry. Thousands of Joe’s the Plumbers have sprung from the American heartland.
Fear is in the air. The voters may not only feel threatened, but also betrayed.
The House of Representatives is the “People’s House.” The response of the people’s representatives is to cancel future town halls, showing great disrespect to the people.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has referred to the protestors (that’s a strange word to call Republicans) of “carrying swastikas and symbols like that.” She called them astroturfed, not knowing the difference between Astroturf and grass roots, or a noun and verb.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid accused the protestors of engaging in “destructive efforts to interrupt a debate that we should have and are having.” The Senator never spoke up for the conservatives whose speech had been disrupted in the past.
The Senate bills itself as “The world’s greatest deliberative body,” but little deliberation is going on in the halls of Congress.
The Democratic National Committee referred to the protestors as a “mob.” Robert Gibbs, the President’s always articulate Press Secretary, referred to the protestors as a “Brooks Brothers Brigade.” I’ve seen a lot in 63 years, including living in San Francisco in the 60’s, but I have never seen a Brooks Brothers Brigade, much less one of protestors. The risk with using class envy in this battle is that the class being attacked is the middle class, the bulwark of the independents who voted Democratic in 2006 and 2008.
Violence occurred at a town hall meeting by Congressman Russ Carnahan in St. Louis last Thursday. Three burly SEIU members were arrested for beating up a young African American entrepreneur, who was selling political buttons outside the meeting. Among his buttons was the classic: “Don’t thread on me.”
Voters are in a foul mood. They tossed the Republicans out in the past two election cycles, and are equally willing to turn on the current incumbents, that is, Democrats. 15 months is an eternity in politics, but incumbents should be running scared. Running from voters is not a panacea for their fears.
Perhaps 2008 was no more of a revolutionary change than 1994, but simply a frustrated public’s desire to toss the bums out.