The Democratic National Committee and its allied groups are mounting a new effort to promote President Obama’s vision of government-centered health reform. They plan to hold more than one thousand events around the country before Congress returns to Washington on September 8 in hopes of countering the true grassroots uprisings taking place in town-hall meetings across the country.
Good luck. After attending several of these town hall meetings myself, I can report that the people attending these rallies are clearly not “un-American,” “angry mobs,” or “evil-mongers,” as Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Harry Reid have claimed, but rather American citizens who are genuinely concerned about the direction their country is taking.
The events that the Democrats are planning range from organized phone banks and community meetings to professionally-staffed rallies, where pro-reform advocates will be bused in. The SEIU is hosting one such event — a rally for Democratic Rep. Jim Moran in Reston, Virginia, outside Washington, D.C., airing tonight on C-SPAN.
These organized events will provide a stark contrast to town-hall meetings that about one-third of members of Congress have been brave enough to hold this month. I am back from nine days on the road, and in forum after forum, from Virginia to Illinois, to New Mexico, Louisiana (which I wrote about here on Critical Condition), and Ohio, citizens are anxious about the direction of health reform and about the Obama administration’s aggressive expansion of government spending.
The New York Times is finally onto the real story, with a report today about a health-care forum in Albany, Georgia, held by Representative Sanford Bishop, Jr., a Democrat serving his ninth term. The Times profiles constituents Bob and Susan Collier who “came to Mr. Bishop’s meeting, not because they had received an electronic call to action, but because they had read about it in The Macon Telegraph.” The Times quotes Mr. Collier at length:
I know we need some reform…. I’ve just got questions about how we’re going to do it…. I’ve never seen the government as intrusive as it is today…. [President Obama] wants to centralize everything. He wants to take over the car companies. He wants to take over the banks. Now he wants to take over health care. It’s a power grab, and if he gets this, there’s no turning it around.
The Times reports that there were “plenty of such people among the thousands packing county courthouses and college auditoriums, including some in the raucous crowd of 500 that confronted Mr. Bishop at Albany State University. The cameras may linger on those at the extremes, but it is the parade of respectful questioners, those expressing discomfiting fears and legitimate concerns, that may ultimately have more impact.”
While Democratic leaders and the “Gang of Six” Senators pledge to press on with reform, it is difficult to see how members — especially Democrats in marginal districts — will be able to vote for any version of the bills making their way through Congress.
The public is losing trust. And the White House still doesn’t seem to get it that it’s the substance of the legislation, not merely its messaging, that is the core of the problem.
First the message was that we had to fix health care to fix the economy. Then, we had to spend more money to get health costs down. Next, we were told we must have change because the status quo is unsustainable. And always there was the promise that people who like their doctors and their health plans won’t have to change. Now the latest message that the president is trying out insists that it is our “moral obligation” to pass reform.
The White House keeps trying to change the sales pitch, but the real problem is the substance of the thousand-page bill that would radically transform one-sixth of our economy and put our health sector under government and political control.
The president is not helping the cause. He continually goes off-script and is reinforcing fears the American people have about his reform plan. Mr. Obama answers critics who talk about “death panels,” jokes about “pulling the plug on grandma,” and equates his proposed government health insurance program with the post office.
The blunders keep mounting: The White House had to pull the plug on [email protected] last week after an outcry from citizens who felt their government was asking other people to report them for speaking out against the president’s health reform agenda. The scheme engendered both ridicule and fear — not easy to do.
Meanwhile, Obama senior advisor David Axelrod is getting hammered for what many perceive to be profiting from the television ads that pro-reform organizations are placing through his former Chicago firm, AKPD Message and Media, which still owes him $2 million for his buy-out.
Still, while the tide has certainly shifted, it would be a mistake to believe this debate is over. Four out of five key congressional committees have passed health reform bills, Democrats still hold strong majorities in both houses of Congress, and the president is determined to sign a bill by the end of the year. That determination echoes the reform effort of the Clinton years are unmistakable, when Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D., W.Va.) infamously told an audience in 1994, “We’re going to pass health reform whether the American people like it or not.”
— Grace-Marie Turner is president of the Galen Institute.