Grass-Roots Anger, Not Crowd Control

August 5, 2009 - 10:54 AM
Washington, D.C. insiders love to follow the minutiae - who's ahead in the latest tracking poll, which congressional committee is marking up a bill, how many amendments there are, but most Americans don't care about this stuff. They don't have time to be glued to C-SPAN all day. Many don't even know who their congressman or senator is. They're busy living life, raising families, building a career.
Washington, D.C. insiders love to follow the minutiae - who’s ahead in the latest tracking poll, which congressional committee is marking up a bill, how many amendments there are, but most Americans don’t care about this stuff. They don’t have time to be glued to C-SPAN all day. Many don’t even know who their congressman or senator is. They’re busy living life, raising families, building a career.
 
This is what makes the recent protests over Congress’ proposed health care “reform” bills so striking. In New York, Rep. Tim Bishop tells a crowd that “no one is talking about the government taking over health care.” And the crowd boos, because they know that’s not true.
Bishop says he won’t bother with any more public hearings.
 
“I had felt they would be pointless,” he said. “There is no point in meeting with my constituents and [to] listen to them and have them listen to you if what is basically an unruly mob prevents you from having an intelligent conversation.” Good luck with that strategy.
 
The question is: is this a movement, or are the protests being organized by crazed insurance company-financed zealots and Rush Limbaugh listeners? Bishop clearly thinks he knows the answer. So do some liberal activists.
 
“The entire rightwing juggernaut – from the vastly powerful insurance industry trade group AHIP to the rightwing message machines of Beck, Limbaugh, Hannity, etc. to the entire Republican ‘leadership’ – is now lined up, heavily financed and organized and ready to pull the plug on health care reform,” wrote commenter “dirndl” at Washingtonpost.com. That’s a near parody of liberal talking points. “We, the people, never even had a chance.”
 
Would that be the same “juggernaut” that elected President Obama with a Democratic majority in both houses of Congress?
 
Still, let’s take this argument at face value. Is it easy to scare up a crowd (or mob, as the newspapers would surely refer to it)? Consider, for a moment, the F-22 fighter jet.
“Parts and subsystems for the F-22 are produced by about 1,000 suppliers in 42 states,” Lockheed-Martin notes on its Web site. Smart move.
 
That means virtually every senator and most representatives will have a reason to preserve the program. Yet Congress recently voted to shut down production of the plane.
 
This isn’t a comment on whether that decision was right or wrong; that’s another column for another day. However, it does raise the question: If putting together protests was easy, why hasn’t the savvy defense contractor arranged for “Save the F-22” protests?
 
Thousands of jobs are at stake. Certainly a few hundred people in each congressional district could be talked into crashing a town hall meeting and stumping for the F-22.
 
That hasn’t happened, but protesters, supposedly funded by insurance companies or mislead by radio hosts, have interrupted their representatives in New York state, Texas, Pennsylvania and elsewhere. Odd.
 
Town hall meetings are, usually, boring affairs. In The Washington Post recently, columnist Dana Milbank described a typical event, hosted by the Environmental Protection Agency. “Four EPA officials agreed to sit and listen for nine hours,” Milbank wrote, “but only 24 people signed up for their five minutes of fame.” Most were paid activists – 14 were chapter heads with the American Lung Association, paid to parrot the group’s talking points.
 
And that’s how it usually goes. When there’s a hearing or a town hall, liberal pressure groups such as ACORN or the SIEU can pay a dozen or so activists to show up and chant, but it’s usually clear these are paid spokespeople, not truly fired-up citizens.
 
This month, we’re seeing a real grassroots movement. People understand that liberals are trying to remake health care and create a government-run, single-payer system. Rep. Barney Frank admitted as much recently when he said, “I think that if we get a good public option it could lead to single-payer and that is the best way to reach single-payer.”
 
There’s a better way.
 
We could unplug health insurance from employment, allowing everyone to buy an individual policy the same way we buy auto, homeowner and life insurance. Want a Cadillac plan? You’ll pay more. Want a plan that only kicks in if you have a disaster such as a heart attack? You’ll pay less in premiums but can keep the coverage even if your employer fires you during your recovery.
 
It’s so simple lawmakers could do it in fewer than 1,000 pages. If they wanted to. Or, they could ignore public opinion, pass a terrible bill and try to socialize health care. We’ll see if they dare to go that route, now that many Americans are, indeed, paying attention.