As members of Congress go home for the August recess and face questioning and sometimes angry crowds at local town hall meetings around the country, the White House and the Democratic leadership are busy characterizing this opposition as astroturfers:
The Republicans and their allied groups — desperate after losing two consecutive elections and every major policy fight on Capitol Hill — are inciting angry mobs of a small number of rabid right-wing extremists funded by K Street Lobbyists to disrupt thoughtful discussions. …
These mobs are bussed in by well funded, highly organized groups run by Republican operatives and funded by the special interests who are desperately trying to stop the agenda for change the president was elected to bring to Washington. Despite the headline grabbing nature of these angry mobs and their disruptions of events, they are not reflective of where the American people are on the issues — or the hundreds of thousands of thoughtful discussions taking place around kitchen tables, water coolers and in homes.
It’s a tried and true method of political posturing: demonizing the opposition. It’s been especially popular with the Obama administration and the Pelosi-Reid Congress.
But if I were a moderate Democrat or an independent, one who had voted for Obama but was now feeling some wariness about the health care reform bill, how would I react to these sorts of statements by the Democratic National Committee? I believe the answer would be: with increasing distrust and resentment.
That’s because, although I would concede that some of the town hall agitators are probably exactly as described by the DNC, I would also very likely know quite a few persons in the real world who are just as angry about the current health care reform bill as those seen in the videos of the town hall meetings. And I would know that those people I’m acquainted with are not paid operatives. I might not even consider them especially extreme in their views. In fact, I might share some of their deep concerns about the bill as written — including the fact that it’s so long and complex and ever-changing that I’m not really sure what it contains right now, and I’m not sure my representative knows, either.
I might be angry at the idea that the member of the House or Senate who represents me is likely to have failed to even read the bill yet and may not plan to, and that Obama’s press secretary hedged when asked whether President Obama has read it or intends to do so. And I might even be angry about “the agenda for change” currently being implemented, thinking it’s not exactly what I thought “the president was elected to bring to Washington.”
I might have thought instead that “the president was elected to bring” bipartisanship to Washington — that is, if I’d bothered to listen to the stump speech Obama gave at every campaign stop, in which he emphasized that he would “bring the country together to solve problems,” and said things like, “I don’t want to pit Blue America against Red America, I want to lead a United States of America.” I might even be accusing him of lying, or at the very least hypocrisy, right about now.
I might also be one of the 60-plus percent of Americans who disapprove of the job Congress is doing. I might even disapprove so strongly that I would have exhibited a little anger at my representative if I had happened to attend one of those town hall meetings. Or I might empathize with those who did, and even resent the Obama administration for characterizing them as astroturfers with “manufactured anger.”
In addition, I might have listened in on, or been part of, some of those “thoughtful discussions taking place around kitchen tables, water coolers and in homes” about the subject of health care reform. If so, I might have noticed that these discussions are hardly devoid of expressions of heated emotion and even anger, perhaps of the same type exhibited by the supposed astroturfers at those town hall meetings. And this despite the fact that I would be sophisticated enough to understand that of course some of those people attending the town halls probably are paid operatives, just as the DNC and the White House says. But the sentiment they express is very real, and the grassroots anxiety about health care reform is broad and deep.
I might realize that this is because the issue of health care reform presses the hot and hair-trigger buttons of personal involvement for most people, and is one that threatens to change their relationship with their doctors in an area of great intimacy and even fear — that of illness.
And I might also have observed that when in the not-so-distant past Democrats disagreed with George W. Bush on various issues, they did not always observe the niceties of decorum and polite and reasoned discussion. I might be inclined to resent the irony of their now calling such behavior from their opponents “radical.”
The Obama administration and the Democrats claim to represent the people. But they appear to be increasingly out of touch with the emotions, reactions, and thought processes of ordinary Americans. They also appear to underestimate the extent by which they can manipulate citizens by condescendingly mouthing the same old partisan accusations.