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August 07, 2009


In the portion show above, Pearlstein referred to Health-Plan critics as "fellow travelers". This term was used by Joseph McCarthy and his ilk to mean followers of the Communist Party who were not formally members of the Party.

It's an odd reversal for that epithet to be be applied to the opponents of a more-or-less socialistic scheme. Fifty-five years ago, it was supporters of socialism who risked being branded as Communists.

While the egregious use of the loaded word "terrorists" is regrettable and ugly, is the rest of the column objectionable?

You say that "the GOP's efforts to defeat the plan are in no way disloyal." Disloyal to whom? Their obstructionism goes beyond ideology into brand territory; they aren't defending America or even conservatism, but only the idea of the Republican party as the antithesis of the Democratic party. There is almost no intellectual honesty on display, or rigor of integrity, just the same old tired talking points.

It's been said a lot, but i want the old Republican party back. I'm tired of the Atwater-Rove lovechild of emotional manipulation and anti-intellectualism.

rone, I don't see the Rep Party simply acting as the antithesis of the Dems. I think they have some valid concerns. E.g.:

-- The plan is very expensive
-- It will add to our already huge federal budget deficit
-- The plan will not save money
-- It will limit patients' choices
-- It will destroy private health insurance
-- It will reduce medical innovation
-- It will dilute the effectiveness of Medicare

Now, one can debate the degree to which these things will or won't come true. I think there are good reasons to worry about each of them. However, instead of demonstrating why these worries won't come about, the people Brendan quotes are simply responding with name-calling.

I wonder if you've considered this rhetorical strategy in terms of the recent study you published. It seems to me that this is what we're seeing:

Republicans claim the Democrats are going to kill grandma. This riles the base who will adamantly oppose health care legislation even if it's repeatedly pointed out that there is, in fact, no such plan.

The Democratic base dismisses the claims as nonsense, and go on with their day.

Current status: Republican opposition is fiercely motivated. Democratic support is unengaged. In this situation, Republicans are pressured to toe the party line, while Democrats from conservative districts face real pressure to oppose Obama's legislation.


Democrats respond that no it's the Republicans who are trying to kill grandma (by canceling Medicare, privatizing Social Security and throwing them to the wolves of the insurance market.) If successful, this will motivate their base, regardless of any evidence to the contrary.

If successful: you're left with two polarized, but equally motivated factions pressuring their legislators. Republicans turn out against the bill. Democrats turn out for it.

Hardly an ideal world, but from the view of the Democratic party, the latter is a much preferable outcome.

Next thing you know, they'll be calling Scott Roeder a "murderer."

I disagree that the definition of "terrorist" is someone who murders people. I think anyone who exploits the emotion of fear, AKA terrorizes people, is by definition a terrorist.
This behavior obviously scares people (and drowns out any questions) into NOT attending the meeting or not speaking up if they do attend.
Brendan, sometimes you get so caught up in being precise that you lose any ability to see reality.

Raleighite, I see what you mean, but I think it's too broad a definition too be useful. E.g., the President and Democratic leadership utilized economic fears to help garner support for the Stimulus Bill. Economic fears helped the Bill to get rapid Congressional approval and helped the sponsors avoid questions about some of the fine print details. Nevertheless, it would be silly to call the President and Democratic leadership "terrorists."


1. a person, usually a member of a group, who uses or advocates terrorism.
2. a person who terrorizes or frightens others.


Yep, it's the death of civility.


What's happening in these town halls is not a gray area: people are physically intimidated and afraid to exercise their constitutional right to address their elected officials, and that is straight up terrorism.

Raleighite, yes there have been some meetings where Health Reform opponents were raucus and somewhat out of control. Generally that occurred when Health Reform opponents who had arrived early were kept out of a public meeting, while supporters were let in.

Also, the intimdation goes both ways. The worst case of intimidation that I've seen reported was when Kenneth Gladney, a black conservative, was handing out “Don’t Tread On Me” flags. Obama supporters and union thugs
punched him in the face, kicked him in the head, and stomped on him on the pavement.

The St. Louis Post Dispatch reported, Gladney was taken to the emergency room at St. John's Mercy Medical Center, where he said he was awaiting treatment for injuries to his knee, back, elbow, shoulder and face.

Here a video from a Health Care meeting in Tampa, FL where union thugs forced Health Reform opponents out of the meeting, roughing up one of them in the process. You can also hear the union folks drowning out a Health Reform opponent, so nobody can hear what she's saying.

As Raleighite noted, people are being physically intimidated. However, it seems that the worst intimidaters are the Obama supporters.

I will also note that the labor unions called their members to come out to the meetings only AFTER news got around about the way the opposers were disrupting the meetings. I certainly don't condone ANY of this, but did these lobby groups think that their actions would go unchallenged?

Gee, who could have predicted that this tactic of packing meetings with non-constituents who are coached to shout down anyone who speaks would lead to violence?

Raleighite, were those Health Reform opponents really non-constituents? How many meetings can you identify where addresses of attendees were checked? Probably none. Opponents of Health Reform were excluded from a number of public meetings. Did any meeting exclude all non-constituents, whether pro or con? I strongly doubt it.

I suspect that the alleged non-constituency may be a feeble excuse offered for excluding these people, or for ignoring them. I think the "packed non-constituents" story may be a way for Health Reform supporters to try to ignore the reality that a large group of Americans are strongly and sincerely opposed to the legislation.

David, how would we know where they're from? Given an opportunity to attend, the first disruptive group simply shouted and disrupted the meeting, setting the tone and pace for future meetings. How do you address someone's concerns when they won't identify them? How can you answer their questions when they won't ask any? Like children, with their fingers in their ears, screaming "I can't hear you! I can't hear you!"
I'd honestly like to know what the specific concerns ARE of these people, because I suspect they are operating under a lot of misinformation. But, again, I have no way to know what their concerns are, because all they do is YELL "Just say no!" and "You work for us!" And then they're outraged that they aren't "listened to."

Raleighite, AFAIK the cases where the health-reform opponents chanted slogans, rather than speak, were situations where they were not permitted to speak. E.g., in my comment of August 08, 2009 at 03:31 AM, the link shows union members chanting so as to drown out an opponent. It also shows the opponents being forced out of the meeting. In other cases, the opponents were not allowed into the meeting, thus making it impossible for them to ask questions.

Nevertheless, the specific concerns of these people are no secret. E.g., theere's a list of many concerns in the 3rd comment on this post.

David, I read your list above. While in no mood to debate those points (and really? Where were these deficit worries when the Bush tax cuts turned a surplus into a history-making deficit?), but from what I'm hearing, a lot of these protestors are worried about "Obama's death squads" and being "put to death by their government" -- obviously absurd talking points. And, they talk about rationing healthcare (as if we don't already do that), having a bureaucrat between you and your doctor (as opposed to a private claims worker), and on and on.
If I thought that most of these people were truly thoughtful about the issue, or were willing to help come up with workable solutions to the problems we face, I'd be all for including them. But that's NOT who's coming to these meetings. THOSE people are probably staying at home and out of the conversation, for fear of getting hurt.

Raleighite, your unproved assumption that the opposition is based on silly beliefs looks to me like an excuse to avoid dealing with their concerns. It's OK with me if you don't want to debate the concerns here. That would totally hijack the thread.

I do want to comment on your aside (Where were these deficit worries when the Bush tax cuts turned a surplus into a history-making deficit?) I didn't like the Bush deficits, but Obama's are in a totally different scale. Bush's largest deficit was around $430 billion IIRC. Obama's estimate of this year's deficit is over $1.8 trillion. However, he has delayed releasing his updated estimate, which everyone expects to be a lot higher. Not only will this year's deficit be around $2 trillion, subsequent years' deficits will also be in that order of magnitude, barring a fantastic economic recovery, which nobody expects.

Also, the deficits are likely to be even worse if health reform passes. The example of Medicare shows that government-supplied health care costs tend to be a great deal higher than initial estimates.

In short, Obama's deficits will be around 4 to 5 times as large as Bush's were. Bush's deficits were managable by borrowing money from from China and ohter foreign lenders. Obama's are so large that they may not be able to be covered that way. They may simply be monitized, which could lead to ruinous inflation.

Sure, one can quibble about the language used in Pearlstein's column. But one hopes that his point is taken to heart: to call the Republicans the "loyal opposition" is just plain silly. Yes, of course, many liberals had Bush derangement syndrome. But two wrongs do not make a right. Especially now, when so many families are losing their homes. I see no upside in making ANY excuses for the Republican hostility to President Obama... this is starting to look like less a political issue, and more of a mental-health issue. (Ironically, the next post in this blog is about the Birthers!)

Apropos of alleged non-constituents, here's a tape showing a Democratic Congressman screaming at a constituent who asked a tough question about health care reform. The Congressman implicitly (and wrongly) accuses the questioner of being a non-constituent. He also accuses the questioner of hijacking his meeting, even though the question was asked during a part of the meeting that was specified as open to all topics.

I think you missed the point. It isn't opposition that is being condemned. It is lying. If Republicans and the insurance industry were not lying, but honestly presenting a competing case, and Pearlstein wrote the same column, you would have a point. But they aren't (unless you truly believe that Obama wants to kill your grandma). So as it stands, you don't.

Paul Camp, I agree that it's ridiculous to say that Obama wants to kill Grandma. A reasonable version of that complaint is described in this Washington Post article Undue Influence The House Bill Skews End-of-Life Counsel

Many objections to Health Reform are reasonable. E.g., take a look at the link in the comment above yours. An MD at a public meeting asked his Congressman why he supported a Plan that won't work. Rather than explain why the Plan would work, the Congressman responded by screaming at the doctor and maligning him based on falsehoods. I think you would agree that this Congressman's behavior was unjustified

In political debates, both sides generally think the other side is wrong or lying. That doesn't justify the kind of verbal vituperation quoted by Brendan and certainly doesn't justify the violent attacks that have been made against some heath-reform opponents by union thugs.

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