One of these things is not like the other
Marc Ambinder is right to say that vacuous, unintelligible outrage is kind of a bad strategy as far as trying to stop a popular president’s health care reform package is concerned. Unfortunately, he can’t seem to make that point without relying on the usual “split-the-difference”/”pox on both houses” calculation:
As usual, in a pattern that the left patented during the Bush administration, the organized right lost control of its message. Lawmakers, Republicans and Democrats, were being asked to respond to non-sequiturs (would you support a health care reform plan that grows the deficit? Health care grows the deficit right now, so it’s a nonsense question, one that is easy for politicians to answer); ; they found their meetings full of engorged spleens. 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. Both Fox and MSNBC televised Sen. Arlen Specter’s raucous town hall meeting live. It was full of confrontation and protest. There were boos when Specter reaffirmed his president’s Americanness.
Okay, let’s be clear. For all of the liberal/leftist protests and demonstrations during the Bush Administration, I don’t recall anything approaching the rancor (or receiving the attention) of the current round of right-wing town hall demonstrations. In the past, Ambinder (and if I recall correctly, a commenter here) has compared these town hall demonstrations to liberal demonstrations against President Bush’s attempted Social Security reform. As Josh Marshall pointed out, Ambinder was missing some pretty critical distinctions:
I watched those events unfold pretty closely. And what the Dems did in 2005 consisted almost entirely of protest outside town halls and anti-privatization activists trying to get into the meetings to ask questions to pin members of Congress down on their position. What made it so uncomfortable for Republican and some Democratic members of Congress is that they got questions they didn’t want to answer.
Did some meetings get heated? Sure. But these weren’t organized attempts to shut down the meetings themselves.
I know this is difficult to admit for some folks, but these concerted attempts to shut down dialogue aren’t a normal part of the political process. They are corrosive to the very idea of public discussion, and I would prefer it if our Beltway overlords didn’t simply dismiss them with a wave of the hand and a “business as usual.”