The Continuing Search for the Angry Democrats

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
April 26 2011 10:05 AM

The Continuing Search for the Angry Democrats

It would seem that I published my piece about the relative calm of the April 2011 town halls right before a few town halls got salty, and before liberal groups stepped up their efforts to make problems for Republicans. For example, Marin Cogan -- and if there's a better reporter on the House freshman, I'm not aware of it -- filed this piece from one of Lou Barletta's town halls.

First Barletta was told "not to be steadfast in Paul Ryan’s Republican plan," to "bend a little, work and come together to pass something that’s agreeable to everybody." Moments later, another constituent told him, "I don’t want you to bend; I want you to stand firm" on spending, even if that means a national debt default.

And hardly anyone in his senior-heavy district wants to see Congress touch their Medicare benefits.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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Behold, angry Democrats! Wait, though -- didn't I read a Marin Cogan piece about the February town halls in blue districts now held by Republicans? What happened then?

But one sentiment resonated through both Rep. Allen West’s Pompano Beach gathering in south Florida and Rep. Dan Webster’s in Winter Garden: voters are still angry, they still don’t trust Washington, and they’re saying, "hell yeah, shut down the government if you have to."

Webster, who preferred his constituents sound off on their opinions rather than ask questions, heard it this way: "If we have to shut the government down, don’t believe those polls you get out of the media. The people are behind you."

This was my point -- there is no dominant outrage at the town halls. There is not, as there was in 2009, a surge of people who overwhelm the meeting spaces or force them to move to other locations. There are some Democrats who are bringing cameras to tape their members as they jostle on the hot seats. But there's no critical mass yet.
 
Are Democrats dropping a ball? Are they failing to tap in to outrage? We can't say that yet. It's possible that there's a massive rope-a-dope strategy afoot. Some strategists I've talked to say they will focus on August town halls (which may get a solid amount of coverage, because the GOP presidential race is so sleepy), and by August, voters will be aware, chapter and verse, of the wrongs of the Ryan budget. But how do they get there? In 1995, Democrats spent millions of dollars on ads beating Republicans over the head with their Medicare cut votes. This year, so far, have they even hit six figures on those ads?

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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