Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Risking Ire

There is a whole lot of fuming and fussing over the reported unleashing of anti-health care reform mobs on Democratic members of the House and Senate holding town hall meetings. While it is pretty clear from the available evidence these are not spontaneous uprisings of popular anger against socialized medicine, but orchestrated efforts to create confusion and bring fear to those who will be voting on the issue after the August recess, there is still the frightening prospect of these events becoming local TV news fodder. And not just local.

There has been frustration on the left because there doesn't seem to be a concerted effort to counter this nation-wide unleashing of the hounds. FireDogLake has a list of meetings around the country, so that folks can go and try to strike some kind of balance. Brad at Sadly,No! is insisting "our side needs to have boots on the ground at these town hall meetings to counteract wingnut madness."

All very noble. Except, the evidence seems to be that such efforts would be wasted. Unless, of course, he and others are arguing that supporters of health care reform should act in a similar fashion, attempting to shout down the shouters.

One of the complaints has been the relatively slow reaction time to this obviously well-organized effort. While the White House has called this phenomenon out, there is a desire by many to "do something more".

Last fall I got some attention from Brad at Sadly,No! because I cautioned against panic in the face of the alleged threat posed by McCain/Palin. As noted here, even as I was writing the piece Brad trashed, the trend in McCain's numbers was ebbing, with the fall just a few days off. My guess at the time was that Obama was allowing McCain to defeat himself. From the poll data, he was correct.

If I had to guess, the White House (as distinct from Democrats in Congress who seem congenitally prone to self-destruction) is taking a similar tack on the ensuing onslaught of anti-reform hordes. While the dim possibility exists that a defeat of health care reform could spell disaster for Democrats in the '10 mid terms (anything can happen, after all), the Republicans are leaderless and rudderless, and the prospect of a new Newt arising in so short a time is dim indeed. Moreover, this isn't the 1990's, and we have far less to fear from right-wing hordes taking over Congress than sixteen years ago. Furthermore, I think Obama's political instincts, at least on this matter, are fundamentally sound.

Even if there are concerns and questions about the health care reform bills currently in front of Congress, the approach the right is taking will, I believe, backfire. Americans may be uneasy about such a huge sea-change, and there is enough misinformation out there to stir the pots of even the most educated citizen; for the most part, though, Americans do not like mobs acting like, well, mobs. Once there are enough pictures and videos and stories of Congressmembers being harangued into silence, escorted out under guard, and the various folks sounding alike across the country, my guess is that, however successful they may be at shutting down local discussions, on the national level - it's going to fail badly.

While it is important to attend these meetings, there won't be much of a chance to shout these folks down, and I wouldn't recommend it anyway. The information is already out there, including from the official White House spokesman, that this entire effort is coordinated from on high. There are already enough instances of these scenes bordering on ugly to start to make folks nervous.

In other words, like McCain picking Palin, it will get some attention at first, but the end result will be an even bigger failure than if another choice had been made. That's my prediction, and the next few weeks will prove me right or wrong.

Virtual Tin Cup

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