My friend, Keith, from New Orleans, just emailed to say he attended a local "town meeting" on health care and tried to get a word in favor but was almost hounded out of the room.
Why are these meetings brimming with so much anger? Because Republican Astroturfers have joined the same old right-wing broadcast demagogues that have been spewing hate and fear for years, to create a tempest.
But why are they getting away with it? Why aren't progressives—indeed, why aren't ordinary citizens—taking the meetings back?
Mainly because there's still no healthcare plan. All we have are some initial markups from several congressional committees, which differ from one another in significant ways. The White House's is waiting to see what emerges from the House and Senate before insisting on what it wants, maybe in conference committee.
But that's the problem: It's always easier to stir up fear and anger against something that's amorphous than to stir up enthusiasm for it.
The White House has just announced a web page designed to rebut some of the insane charges that the right is instigating. That won't be enough. The President has to be more specific about what he's for and what he's against. Without these specifics, the right can conjure up every demon in its arsenal while the middle and left can only shrug their shoulders.
Reich follows this in his post with a series of recommendations about what the Obama administration must do the sell the plan that isn't there, but I am most fascinated as an historian (not necessarily a libertarian in this case) with a process observation.
President Obama went into this arena with two things (1) some general ideas about what health insurance reform should include; and (2) an ironclad determination not to repeat the Clinton administration mistakes of the early 1990s.
President Clinton brought Congress chapter-and-verse, and said, Take it or leave it. President Obama therefore said, Congress needs to write the law and then pass it in accordance with my basic principles.
The problem: with so many different versions in play, and those change constantly, even commenters who are trying to be honest brokers actually have very little idea what they are talking about. At least once I referred in a comment on another blog to a particular section in one of the House mark-ups, only to find that it wasn't there the next time I visited the webpage.
The real problem (in process terms): if President Obama wanted major health care reform he should have looked back not the the 1990s, but to 1850. The Compromise of 1850 could not be passed as a single bill because there was something in it that virtually every legislator in Congress had to vote against, or face defeat in the next election. To pass it, Stephen Douglass eventually came up with the idea of building separate majorities for each of the major provisions as separate bills, which allowed Congressmen from Alabama to vote against eliminating the slave trade in Washington DC and Congressmen from New York to vote against the revised Fugitive Slave Act. [Of course this was all done with a wink and a nod, because they had all agreed ahead of time that the whole megilla had to pass.]
This would be the way to do health insurance reform, I think.
However, before you go suggesting that to your Congressman, there is one important point to remember: The Compromise of 1850 was one of those peace in our time moments that was supposed to mediate factionalism over slavery for the immediate future: ten years later we had a civil war.