We have entered uncharted territory in the fight over national health care. There’s a new tone in the debate, and it’s ugly. At the moment the Democrats are looking like something they haven’t looked like in years, and that is: desperate.There is no doubt in my mind that the GOP and insurance companies are ginning up some support, but not to the level that we are seeing. You can't have this kind of passion from industry supporters, there are people out there who are truly scared about losing their healthcare and they don't like it.
And so the shock on the faces of Congressmen who’ve faced the grillings back home. And really, their shock is the first thing you see in the videos. They had no idea how people were feeling. Their 2008 win left them thinking an election that had been shaped by anti-Bush, anti-Republican, and pro-change feeling was really a mandate without context; they thought that in the middle of a historic recession featuring horrific deficits, they could assume support for the invention of a huge new entitlement carrying huge new costs.
The passions of the protesters, on the other hand, are not a surprise. They hired a man to represent them in Washington. They give him a big office, a huge staff and the power to tell people what to do. They give him a car and a driver, sometimes a security detail, and a special pin showing he’s a congressman. And all they ask in return is that he see to their interests and not terrify them too much. Really, that’s all people ask. Expectations are very low. What the protesters are saying is, “You are terrifying us.”
What has been most unsettling is not the congressmen’s surprise but a hard new tone that emerged this week. The leftosphere and the liberal commentariat charged that the town hall meetings weren’t authentic, the crowds were ginned up by insurance companies, lobbyists and the Republican National Committee. But you 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.
People are not automatons. They show up only if they care.
But I think it runs a bit deeper than just health care, it is a growing discontent about Congress and the government in general. Noonan suggested that Democrats thought their win in 2008 was based on anti-Bush, but it could be more of a generalized feeling of anti-govnerment.
Noonan is right, Americans are fired up right now and the avergage Congresman is not going to be able to side step this one as "It is the 434 other members who are screwing you--not me." If the mid-term elections were held this year, I doubt that more than 100 Members would be reelected, it really is that bad. In the past, discontent with Congress as an institution rarely hit an individual congressman that hard. I don't that that is the case any longer.
The Congressional reaction, of fighting back rather than representing their constitutents is not going to go over well. Voters want their views represented, not their representatives to be mouthpieces for the Obama Administration.