Ed Kilgore is managing editor of The Democratic Strategist, a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute, and a frequent contributor to a variety of political journals.
Of all the back-and-forth recriminations about this week's shriekfests at congressional "town hall meetings," the most maddening is that offered on Friday by the oh-so-eloquent wordsmith Peggy Noonan in the Wall Street Journal. According to Noonan, arrogant Democrats are insisting on health care reform despite its obvious absurdity at a time like this, thereby "terrifying" citizens into protests against the outrage. And it's all a tragic accident due to a quirk of last year's Democratic primaries:
When Mrs. Clinton started losing to Barack Obama in the primaries 18 months ago, she began to give new and sharper emphasis to her health-care plan. Mr. Obama responded by talking about his health-care vision. He won. Now he would push what he had been forced to highlight: Health care would be a priority initiative. The net result is falling support for his leadership on the issue, falling personal polls, and the angry town-hall meetings that have electrified YouTube.
Noonan seems to be unaware that health care was a priority initiative for every major Democratic presidential candidate throughout the last two election cycles. And far from being a strange preoccupation this year, Obama and congressional Democrats have emphasized health care reform not in the face of economic concerns, but because of them, given the highly damaging economic effects of ever-rising health care costs and steadily eroding coverage.
But this basic misstatement of the landscape by Noonan is nothing compared to her assumption that screaming crowds of protestors at town hall meetings are purely representative of a justifiably frightened public:
[Y]ou can't get people to leave their homes and go to a meeting with a congressman (of all people) unless they are engaged to the point of passion. And what tends to agitate people most is the idea of loss-loss of money hard earned, loss of autonomy, loss of the few things that work in a great sweeping away of those that don't.
How does Noonan know this? Has she gone out with a clipboard and determined these crowds are composed of a cross-section of the American citizenry? "Astroturfing" aside, is she really unaware of the overlap between these protests and the vastly unrepresentative "tea party movement"? When similar crowds of "passionate" people fearing "loss" expressed rage during the campaign about Obama's "redistributionist" tax proposals, should he have just conceded the election to McCain? You'd guess so, since Noonan's prescription for Obama is to stop scaring these poor, oppressed people and give up on health reform.
Peggy Noonan is not that stupid. If Obama were promoting something she supported, there's zero chance she would be asking him to surrender in the face of intimidation by small groups of people who may well just be "passionate" because they never wanted him elected in the first place.