Are Conservatives "Blowing It" on Health Care?

A mostly political weblog.
Aug. 11 2009 11:13 PM

Are Conservatives "Blowing It" on Health Care?

"Conservatives are blowing it" on health care. So argues Marc Ambinder. Republicans are turning town halls into general " anti-Obama venting sessions ," he twittered on Sunday. All that shouting-down was turning people off.  "[T]his trend favors the left."  It certainly wasn't going to cause the Blue Dogs, whose votes are crucial to reform, to vote against it.  

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At this same hour last week, several of the President's top political advisers were meeting in a White House conference room to discuss the appearance, over the first weekend in August, of a coordinated effort to scare Democratic lawmakers who planned to attend town hall meetings into a state of panic.  A week later, and the Atlantic's tricorder readings are picking up much calmer electromagnetic energy from the White House.  ... Democrats are beginning to notice that opponents of health care reform have discredited themselves . They ramped up much too quickly . When smaller, conservative groups Astroturfed, they inevitably brought to the meetings the type of Republican activist who was itching for a fight and who would use the format to vent frustrations at President Obama himself.  ...[T]the loudest voices tended to be the craziest, the most extreme, the least sensible, and the most easy to mock.  ...

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.

Remember, the target audience for Republicans is Blue Dog Democrats in Congress. They won't panic unless they perceive organic anxiety.  The White House's goal was to prevent the Blue Dogs from panicking. The swing constituents in these congressional districts aren't angry Republicans, and the Blue Dogs know this.  They're political independents for whom the sanctity of the process is important. ....  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.

These are good points--possibilities, at least. They're the possibilities you'd want to emphasize if you were, say, a Democratic aide talking to Marc Ambinder. But are they the most important possibilities? For example, anti-Obama activists indeed seemed uncouth and even thuggish in some early townhall MSM coverage. But how many people watch the MSM in the middle of August? (And anyway, Obama has now shown that these meetings aren't that uncivil!)  

The bigger picture is whether support for health care, already too weak , builds over August or shrinks, no? Does Ambinder really think it's going to build  simply because GOPs ramped up too quickly and got too loud last week?   Doesn't the latter criticism, however valid, have the half-life of either a twitter item or Rahm Emanuel's attention span, whichever is shorter?

Ambinder seems to be operating on the premise that all Obama needs to do is convince a finite number of Blue Dogs to vote with him and a "comprehensive" health reform will pass--the way a few more delegates once enabled him to lock up the nomination. But lawmaking isn't that cleanly mathematical. When the general public sours on a bill , it affects more than a few swing votes. Unpopular bills have a way of magically bogging down in Congress even if a majority technically favors them and regardless of what happens with Senators and Congressman whose votes were once considered "crucial." (There were crucial swing Senators on Clinton's health care reform too, at one point. And on "comprehensive" immigration reform in 2007.) The White House aides whose temperature Ambinder's taking certainly have an interest in making it all seem like simply a battle for the Blue Dogs, because that seems more like a battle they can win.  

If Ambinder were any easier to spin, he'd be a dreidl .  ... Update: See also Patrick Ruffini . ...

P.S.: Ambinder says the GOP effort was not "coherent, organized." Doesn't that undercut the left talking point that it was secretly, centrally controlled by sophisticated DC corporate lobbyists? ...   

P.P.S.: A more interesting, though equally spinnish, Ambinder post makes some subtle points about the real views of Obama health care adviser Ezekiel Emanuel (Rahm's brother). 

a) For example:  

Hospice care costs more than hospital care in most circumstances, Emanuel found -- and so the end-of-life counseling that a doctor provides has little to do with saving money.  

But if that's true, then why doesn't Obama calm everyone down by ostentatiously dropping the end-of-life- oriented parts of the bills?  ...  

b) I knew it was all Michael Sandel's fault!  On Ezekiel Emanuel's "communitarian" world view :

Emanuel sketches out a "civic Republicanism" telos -- that is -- our health care decisions as a society should be yoked to a system that "promote[s] the continuation of the polity-those that ensure healthy future generations, ensure development of practical reasoning skills, and ensure full and active participation by citizens in public deliberations-are to be socially guaranteed as basic."  He notes that such a system would deny "services provided to individuals who are irreversibly prevented from being or becoming participating citizens."  
Emanuel is setting up a contrast: our health care system today treats everyone equally -- as if they ought to have equal access to every possible procedure or treatment . To most of us, the status quo seems intuitively right. Everyone is equal -- equal under God -- Emanuel doesn't say this, but he might as well -- and therefore it would be evil to make distinctions.   What Emanuel is arguing, here, is that this liberalism substitutes one goal -- equality -- for another -- a healthy society -- and that substitution may be responsible for the limited choices that policy-makers confront. [E.A]  

Well, if you put it that way ... I'm for equality! For a health care system that "treats everyone equally," even if it's expensive.  Against a system that would deny "services ... to individuals" who won't ever achieve "full and active participation .. in public deliberations." 

Like I said, Sarah Palin had a point . ...

P.P.P.S.:  Who said social equality would always be cheap? ...  8:59 P.M.

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