Protests Are About More Than Health Care
You can always spot an “inside the beltway” mentality – he or she judges the mood of the rest of the country by what he or she sees and hears in DC and by what those there deem to be imporant.
Marc Ambinder is no exception (and I’m not picking on him specifically – he’s just typical of the type). He has an article out in which he claims that ‘conservatives’ are blowing their chance at stopping the pending health care legislation. Why?
Well, because of the “calmness” emanating from the White House as they gear up for a counter-offensive against the health care protesters found at just about every townhall meeting lawmakers have. And, states Ambinder, Democrats are noticing that opponents have begun “to discredit themselves”.
Really? Is that why the health care numbers continue to tank in every poll taken by every polling organization out there? Is that the reason lawmakers like Sen. Arlen Specter have stated, “there is more anger in America today than at any time I can remember”?
What is clear to those who are outside the beltway and dealing with reality is that those inside the beltway have no clue about the general feeling in this country that has been turning common everyday people with only a passing interest in politics into attendees at townhall meetings with a message. It seems one can sit in DC and write glib op/eds about why “conservatives” are blowing it and apparently be oblivious to that.
The American people remain anxious and confused about health care reform. That is an underlying reality that Republican activists are so eager to exploit. But doing so required a certain restraint — and a willingness to traffic in at least approximate truths — and an ability to make distinctions within their own ranks about which tactics were valid and which tactics were venomous. It also required a sophistication about the media. The base condition here is an enthusiastic Republican base and a depressed Democratic base. A coherent, organized effort would have recognized that the moment the media began to take sides was the moment that the entire enterprise could be damaged. The media, being a collection of different megaphones, reported on the town hall meetings in one of two ways, both damaging to Republicans. Either they credulously reported the louder, angrier voices (inherently damaging to Republicans in this case) or they reported on the political architecture of the town hall meetings, which plays down the substance of the protests.
He misses the point of the protests completely. Republicans aren’t in charge of this effort. And it is hard to exploit, control or “message” what isn’t yours.
This isn’t an organized effort by “Republicans” or “conservatives”. It isn’t being done to sway the media or, as he later claims, targeted toward the blue dog Democrats. This isn’t about the politics of this issue. Instead, and all you have to do is watch the various hundreds of videos out there, this is an organic and spontaneous grassroots uprising orchestrated by no real overarching organization. These are people who have sought out the townhall meeting in their district and attended to voice their displeasure with their lawmaker with no organized prompting, no organized email campaign and no preprinted fliers, etc.
And this is what those like Ambinder miss. They’ve quaffed the kool-aid that says it is all astroturf and misjudged the result. To people like him this is all about red and blue, who has the better organization, the best media campaign and timing. As usual, they focus on the wrong things:
As usual, in a pattern that the left patented during the Bush administration, the organized right lost control of its message. Lawmakers, Republicans and Democrats, were being asked to respond to non-sequiturs (would you support a health care reform plan that grows the deficit? Health care grows the deficit right now, so it’s a nonsense question, one that is easy for politicians to answer); ; they found their meetings full of engorged spleens. Unrestrained, these town hall meetings are going to turn off the type of voters Republicans most need to pressure Blue Dog Democrats — independents who don’t have red genes or blue genes. Both Fox and MSNBC televised Sen. Arlen Specter’s raucous town hall meeting live. It was full of confrontation and protest. There were boos when Specter reaffirmed his president’s Americanness.
Of course, the latter point is both minor and a sideshow and misses completely what is going on. What Americans who are confronting legislators over in these townhall meetings is the pattern of deception and misrepresentation they see as rampant now. My favorite line from one of the townhall meetings was “I’m tired of being lied too. I’m tired of being lied about. And this administration has done both of those”.
Ambinder thinks this is all political theater. He’s missed completely the visceral aspect of these protests. He sure that now that the Obama machine is finally paying attention they’ll overwhelm the relatively disorganized rabble.
Well he needs to get a clue. The people of this country can recognize real astroturf when they see it. The know what real political theater looks like. They understand that a big crowd showing up somewhere with the same signs and dressed alike most likely means they aren’t from around there.
There is a difference between organic anger and manufactured joy and unlike the Ambinders of the world, most Americans know the difference and are not fooled by it. It is one thing to organize political rallies during a campaign that have that manufactured appearance. It’s another thing entirely to bring that sort of nonsense to what a lot of people consider a life and death debate about their health care.
Another thing analysts like Ambinder miss is the cumulative effect of the reaction of Democratic lawmakers have given to these protesters. When you show up at a townhall meeting to confront a lawmaker who is ignoring you and you’re characterized as a “mob”, “political terrorists”, “racists”, “thugs”, “un-American” and finally likened to the KKK, you’re not going to forget it.
Many who have, for the first time in their lives, actually take the steps to attend such meetings and end up being labeled in those terms are not going to forget what was said and who said it. And as has been obvious, many of those attending aren’t Republicans or conservatives.
One of the reasons these eruptions are happening is because lawmakers have rejected the call by the country to slow down and have a real and substantive debate about this pending legislation. But you have to actually listen to the protesters and understand what they’re saying. Instead we get a handwave that dismisses them as rabble and a complete misreading of what is going on in favor of the DC show.
This is the sort of denial that happens constantly in the happy little bubble within the beltway. The seemingly total disconnect from the reality of the situation in the country is incredible. This is real. This isn’t going to stop. And it isn’t about “influencing the blue dogs” or “Republicans” or “conservatives”. My advice to people like Ambinder is to do himself a favor and actually listen to what is being said for a change or, heaven forbid, attend one of these townhalls and see for himself.
This isn’t about political shows and who shows up with the best organized protesters. This is about a growing fight for the heart and soul of America, and the inside the beltway types are missing it completely.