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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Town Squall

We haven't weighed in on health care much here at FFB, I suspect b/c we're all in some agreement: the reform plan in front of Congress is absolutely necessary, the public option is a critical part of that plan, and delay is death. I don't have the policy chops to weigh in on too many of the specifics, but I have been interested in the debate now raging in town halls across the country. A few observations:

1) The fact that most of the opposition to the plan, especially the loudest of it, has been based on outright lies is a good sign for us. If there were an easily exploitable truth that made the plan a problematic sell to the public, we surely would have been hearing about it ad nauseam for the last several weeks. But we haven't. Instead, it has been "death panels," and "enemies lists," and taxpayer-funded abortions, and gutting the VA and Medicare, and illegal immigrants, and Nazis, socialists, and Maoists, oh my. In other words, the opponents of this reform have looked at its outlines and said to themselves, "We got nothin!" So they went with the most demagogic but also transparent and easily debunked falsehoods they could muster. Lies always have a short term advantage in politics (hence Twain's quip about a lie getting halfway around the world before the truth could get its boots on). But they have long term disadvantages, as J. S. Mill argued persuasively. The advantage that opponents had here was that the short time frame needed to pass reform gave their lies an edge. They are, however, bad liars, and their own window of falsehood is rapidly evaporating.

2) The Blue Dogs must be kicking themselves for having argued for delay. They're the ones who have the toughest districts, and the August recess will hurt them the most, since they'll tend to face the most concerted resistance. The debate has gotten so polarized that they've put themselves in a lose-lose scenario. Oppose reform and they crush the enthusiasm of their own base voters; support it and they run headlong into angry (and now organized) teabaggers. I sympathize for my own MC, Bart Gordon, who has been cagey on the public option and issues related to cost and financing. This district went +20 for GWB in 2004 and +26 for McCain in 2008. Yet I'm certainly not going to provide Gordon any help or write him any more checks if he doesn't go with the party on this one.

3) One of the funniest complaints I've heard, one that Claire McCaskill got today at her Missouri town hall is this notion that Congress should be forced to live with the same health plan they force on the American people. Um, that's called the "public option," folks. If you want ordinary Americans to have the same opportunity for government health care that members of Congress get, you can't then argue against including a voluntary option for consumers to get a government plan.

4) Obama continues to be the best spokesman for his own plan. His NH town hall today was masterful and unusually civil. He exudes a confidence that belies the recent media spin about growing opposition. I actually suspect the tide is going to turn thanks to teabagger overreach. Their hysteria is just too bonkers to take seriously, and the Dems will eventually look good for having stood tough in its face. If this reform goes through--and I'm confident something reasonably good will--and the economy really does pick up next year, Obama and the Dems could be very well positioned for 2010 and 2012.


At 8:15 PM, Blogger Frances said...

Thanks for your optimism, TMcD. I do have some confidence that health reform will go through this year, despite the problems it's encountered in the legislative process. And even the weakest versions of the legislation will make a big difference in people's lives. Just ending preexisting condition restrictions and regulating the individual insurance market will make a big difference.

But I disagree about the 2010 optimism. Democrats are at their high water mark now. Dems are going to lose seats at the midterm. The GOP's recruitment efforts are going well. Polls show an ENORMOUS enthusiasm gap, with Republicans far more likely to turn out to vote. Republicans are ENERGIZED and ANGRY. And that energy gap is going to cause Democrats significant pain in the low turnout midterms.

At 11:53 PM, Blogger tenaciousmcd said...

Frances, you may be right on 2010: the prospect of three consecutive Dem landslides seems highly unlikely, and GOP rage is certainly boiling at the moment. But we've also got a year plus to go, and a big victory on health care combined with a shift on the economy could do a lot to neutralize those trends. Americans love "winners." Now add that the GOP has stoked its base by moving crazy far right. Their approval ratings are still in the dumper, they have no credible leaders, and their only prospects of improvement come from a joint collapse of Obama and the economy, which could happen but I doubt.

I'm not expecting big Dem gains. I just don't expect the GOP to make up much if any ground.

At 12:44 PM, Blogger Gina said...

TMcD, I agree with your take on the Obama event in New Hampshire. But why is he being criticized in some quarters for not taking more confrontational questions until the very end? As a matter of stagecraft, would it have been to the administration's advantage to have attracted more inarticulate fearmongers to the microphones? Or was this just a function of the Secret Service trying to keep as many potential disuptions at bay as part of the security sweep? Obama even went out of his way toward the end of the Q-and-A period to say he didn't want people to think he had stuck a lot of plants in the audience. Do you have to come up with your own opposition to be credible anymore?

At 1:04 PM, Blogger DK said...

It is such a sad commentary on our media that the "rev up the teabaggers and have them scream crazy shit" strategy is actually working. Not that I think it will ultimately stop some sort of healthcare reform. I agree that something will likely pass and that even the weakest versions of reform will amount to substantial progress. But from a media cycle point of view, the strategy has worked. It inevitably gets reported as 'health care reform is controversial,' and that helps the supporters of the status quo. Only in the short term, of course, but it's still depressing

One of the most interesting aspects of this, though, is how clearly the GOP has double downed on the nixonland strategy. Given demographic trends, this seems utterly suicidal - can the GOP really get 80% of the white vote outside the south? - but I guess they've determined it's their only course (at least by default).

At 3:42 PM, Blogger Will said...

Thank you for posting this. I have been becoming increasingly and consistently more and more upset and frustrated as this debate wears on. I don’t understand this approach being taken by the right wing. I absolutely understand the hesitation and questions about healthcare reform, what I don’t get are why they’re trying to divide, and spread lies. My view (let me know if I’m out of line or wrong here): If you have real questions or concerns, come to the table with an adult argument and make your case. If you do, then you will not be ignored, and a solution can be found, through reasonable compromise, to find common ground. When you show up merely to hoot and holler and distract and disrupt, you make no progress, for either side. Including your own.
You know me, and know that I am still quite young, and only a few years into being more politically active/aware. I haven’t been around long enough to witness any major generational changes like the ones taking place today. So, I have no knowledge of whether, or not, this is run-of-the-mill dissent, which occurs at every truly major issue, or if this is something new. If this is real evidence that our society may be headed the way of Idiocracy. (Awful movie, but a decent message.) Anyway, I just wanted to thank you for posting this, because I have really been racking my brain trying to figure out what these people expect to accomplish by this repeated display of shameful immaturity. And it has been so disheartening to witness these adults make a mockery out of the political process, especially when it comes to such a fundamentally important issue like healthcare reform, and your post, here, made me feel a little better. So, thanks.

At 5:37 PM, Blogger tenaciousmcd said...

It is really easy to watch the chaos at these town hall meetings and get dispirited by it. But I think Dems need to thicken our skins a little bit. MLK had to confront his kind of crap three times before breakfast every day. This is so much milder than the civil rights turmoil that it makes me ashamed to mention it. They've made this a fight, dammit, but just because I believe in civility and reason doesn't mean I want to back down in its face. It does mean that reason and civility should be tools by which we court the vast middle to turn on the far right.

It would help if the media didn't act like idiots, of course. Still, they're a little better than they used to be. Imagine this fight before you had Olberman or Maddow to do pushback! At least now there are liberal voices on TV. Hell, even Charlie Frickin' Gibson ran a piece debunking the nutjobs.

The real lesson here is that you can't bargain with loons. Lawrence O'Donnell has been pushing a "drop the public option" compromise lately, one I'm sure he's picked up on from his contacts on the Hill. But it will make NO difference. The people who oppose reform oppose reform PERIOD. Some for self-interest (the insurance cos), some from ignorance (the elderly who want the gov't out of their Medicare), and some from ideological insanity (the assortment of teabaggers, LaRouchies, and race-baiters). They will demagogue this plan no matter what is in it. But that also makes them into an easy foil. If only we had a charismatic and articulate leader who could pull that off. . . .

At 12:45 PM, Blogger DK said...

As a matter of pure political strategy I still don't understand why the Democrats walked into this trap. There is nothing to be gained from the town halls. So why hold them? When all you want to do is preserve the status quo, the more you can frame an issue as controversial the better off you are. So when the images on TV are people screaming about health care reform you win, no matter what is being screamed (as long as the screaming is coming from the "right" demographic for media and political purposes). Plus this is just firing up the GOP base, and as Frances said the GOP is already benefitting from an enthusiasm gap. In the grand scheme of things this mistake probably won't be fatal to real reform. But it's still a major league tactical mistake and the GOP has won this round decisively.


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