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Posted by on Aug 11, 2009 in Economy, Health, Politics | 40 comments

Could Republican Town Hall Protests Backfire?


The emerging narrative in a lot of the major press coverage of heatlh care reform is that President Barack Obama has lost control of his message, which is why he was out on the hustings today at a town hall meeting. But now The Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder writes that he now senses a slight relief at the White House.

Why? Because, according to Ambinder, there’s a growing feeling that the Republicans may have lost control of their message and that GOPers at Town Halls have provided a picture of some of the party’s most extreme, angry elements — which won’t convince the Blue Dog Democrats to panic and not support the plan and could well scare off independent swing voters.

Here are key portions of what he says in a post titled “How Conservatives Are Blowing Their Chance.” He notes that the mood at the White House has changed from one week ago:

A week later, and the Atlantic’s tricorder readings are picking up much calmer electromagnetic energy from the White House. Getting Democrats to attend the town hall meetings was really an intermediate goal. But Democrats are beginning to notice that opponents of health care reform have discredited themselves. They ramped up much too quickly. When smaller, conservative groups Astroturfed, they inevitably brought to the meetings the type of Republican activist who was itching for a fight and who would use the format to vent frustrations at President Obama himself. There were plenty of activists who really wanted to know about health care, and some who were probably misinformed — scared out of their chairs — to some degree, but the loudest voices tended to be the craziest, the most extreme, the least sensible, and the most easy to mock.

Ambinder suggests that conservatives had a window of opportunity to make their case seriously which “required a certain restraint — and a willingness to traffic in at least approximate truths — and an ability to make distinctions within their own ranks about which tactics were valid and which tactics were venomous. It also required a sophistication about the media.”

And what about the media? Ambinder contends media reports were not helpful to the GOP because reports were done in either two ways: “they credulously reported the louder, angrier voices (inherently damaging to Republicans in this case) or they reported on the political architecture of the town hall meetings, which plays down the substance of the protests.”

The Blue Dog Democrats’ swing constitutes aren’t angry,” he writes, “and the Blue Dogs know this. They’re political independents for whom the sanctity of the process is important. These are the type of voters who like President Obama because he appears willing to bring people together even though they don’t agree with their policies.”

In short, he argues, the right has lost control of its message, much as the left did under Bush. Lawmakers of both parties:

…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.

This has been the problem with the GOP in recent years: most of its pitches, when the rubber meets the road, eventually boil down to arguments that seem aimed at wavering Republicans and the style and tone of the rhetoric is — as we have called it here — the confrontional, angry and demonizing talk radio political culture. That works fine with Republicans, but it can only cause a counter reaction in wavering liberal Democrats who began to sour on Obama and independent voters wanting to follow a debate don’t get much substance hearing people yell about socialism, Marxism, Nazi Germany or Obama death panels.

In the end, this may come down to which side discredits itself first. Getting media coverage isn’t always positive if the images that come out are unpleasing to others who are not just not on your side but on the fence deciding which is the side worth joining.

So does this mean that Obama is on the descent as Ambinder suggests due to the images the meetings are emitting?

Not necessarily. Political veteran David Gergen has a different take on it and can foresee health care reform being defanged or even derailed due to the angry protests, which he notes don’t just involve talk radio and special interest group types but other Americans who distrust the change:

In this week’s issue of the National Journal, correspondents Brian Friel and Richard E. Cohen provide a valuable insight into possible endgames. They report that there are four possible outcomes:

(1) A major bipartisan reform bill is passed;
(2) A major Democratic reform bill is passed over nearly united Republican opposition;
(3) The Democrats cannot agree among themselves and pass Health Care Lite, a very watered down version of reform;
(4) Failure

Looking at the chances today, in the midst of all this brouhaha, one would have to say that the odds for outcomes one and two are going down. It is hard to see how a lot of Republicans will sign up for a bipartisan bill in the teeth of this opposition; similarly, it may be tougher for moderate Democrats, especially new members from Republican-leaning districts, to sign on to a Democratic-only bill. That means the odds are going up for outcomes three and, yes, four.

Does this mean that reform is dying? Not at all. It is still possible that if the protests continue at a high decibel level, more people in the middle will grow disgusted and rally to the President. And given his political and rhetorical talents, it is more than possible that Barack Obama himself can turn this around. But for the moment, the raucous clips coming out of Senator Specter’s session with his constituents along with other clips from other town halls — as offensive as they are to many (including me) — are also presenting a growing threat to reform.

So pick the theory of your choice — and come September, see which proved to be correct.

The cartoon by David Fitzsimmons, The Arizona Star, is copyrighted and licensed to appear on TMV.

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Copyright 2009 The Moderate Voice
  • GeorgeSorwell

    A lot of the people I see in these video clips complaining about the evils of government-run health insurance are obviously old enough to be on Medicare, which means they’re probably hypocrites.

    Maybe we’re not supposed to notice?

    • goodspkr

      The people on Medicare are not hypocrites, but know they are the sacrificial goat in the health care debate. First, Obama proposes paying for part of the cost by cutting Medicare. Second, if you want to “bend the curve” in spending, the only place that makes sense doing it is with the elderly (50% of the healthcare dollars you will spend in your lifetime are spent the last six months you are alive). Add to this the mandatory end of life counseling required by at least one of these proposals and you have to be a fool not to know what’s coming.

      • HemmD


        I can’t believe anybody could spout so many false talking points in such a short comment.

  • I think they may be able to stop reform for now but health care in the US will continue to deteriorate and so reform will come in a year or two and The Republicans may find they get something they think is even more onerous. But the bigger problem for the Republicans is that those protesters have become the face of the Republican Party. Not the sort of thing Independents or even moderate Republicans want to be part of. And it’s only a mater of time before one of the real nutcases inspired by Glen Beck ot Rush Limbaugh takes a shot at a Democratic politician or even the President himself.

  • RevDave

    “Ambinder suggests that conservatives had a window of opportunity to make their case seriously” And what serious case would they be making? No No No? It’s pretty clear their case is to do nothing at all and keep our dysfunctional system in place.

  • mjbednar

    How come I only see angry white people who don’t like Obama’s health care reforms at the town hall meetings?

    • AustinRoth


    • superdestroyer

      You only see angry whites because all other demographic groups in the U,S. are overwhelmingly Democratic. And why are blacks, Hispanics, and recent immigrations overwhelmingly Democratic? Because the Democrats promise to tax the crap out of whites and give them the money. Thus. all other demographic groups (non-whites) support the nationalization of healthcare because they are very short sighted. There is a good potential that nationalized healthcare will destroy medicine/health sciences as a good career field and put it in the same, government control, low wage career field as teaching.

      I also doubt if any non-whites care about how the U.S. is going to fund free healthcare for millions of illegal aliens.

      • Guest

        You only see angry whites because this is this the Glen Beck, Faux News demographic.

        It’s like watching the Republican convention… they pan over the same three black faces 15 times in the course of an evening.

        It’s hilarious how the right-wingnuts believe George Soros has undue influence.

        Rupert Murdock, a right-wing billionaire and a predatory control freak has got all his media properties and sockpuppets, Beck, Hannity, O’Reilly, Sarah Palin etc, ect in full “Attack President Obama” mode 24/7.

        With with her ghost-written book, Sarah Palin is getting Rupert’s Wingnut Welfare so she can attack Presidebnt Obama fulltime.

        Her book deal is with HarpersCollins Publishers… a wholly owned Murdock property.

        Rupert has big plans for Sarah Palin and her new President Obama bashing career.

      • stop your insanity

        Yes, it is funny that there are few if any small black businesses in many economic sectors because the Latinos have squeezed them out. Illegal immigration has not only recreated indentured servitude in the US, it is an economic variable that facilitates for many businesses an unfair competition suppressing edge. It is for that and other reasons that I ask black Americans why they support a political party that appears to have done little for them in the last twenty years except further marginalize and stigmatize them.

        • HemmD


          It’s clear that they support the Democratic party because the Republicans have the owners of all the business owners who use illegal immigrants at cut rate prices on their side. You know, it’s good business to screw your labor force and keep the padded profits for yourself. It’s also the Republican way.

          You really do need to try a different tactic. Trying to split blacks and Latinos in the Democratic party by playing one against the other is an old, old game. If you want to solve the illegal immigration issue, why not support labor laws that make it a felony to hire illegal immigrants? It was your lobbyists who have consistently blocked a decent verification system. I guess it’s simpler to blame the poor than constraint the greed of the rich.

          • stop your insanity


            “…make it a felony to hire illegal immigrants…” I’d settle for enforcement of the laws already on the books.

            I’m no Republican…I’m an independent now…I’ve been a registered Democrat bordering on Communist for most of my life. I’m not trying to play anyone against anyone else. My musing about black american support for the Democratic Party is not without merit. In fact it is based not just on insight but many conversations had with black construction contractors who’ve watched their share of that industry dry up while the Dems fall all over themselves to flood the market with more illegal immigrants. I can’t help but think that your saying ‘playing one against the other’ is a bit off mark. Since when were illegal immigrants part of the voting block? Furthermore, Latinos are not unanimous in their opinions on anything.

            Here’s a healthcare proposal:
            – the immediate need is to cover the uninsured, right?
            – why don’t we give the illegal immigrants the access to citizenship they deserve (rather than continue their servitude), in the process charge then 5,000 to 10,000 USD (plus additional penalties for egregious tax code violations).
            – AFTER the processing fees are taken out we put the BILLIONS of dollars left over in a congressionally created temporary fund for the uninsured. This fund would be set up to handle those costs for the next year ONLY, a reasonable amount of time for Congress to put together something more coherent.

            Here is one thing I know for sure from years working with immigrants – they act like any other American once they become one. For instance, they ask for comparable wages…

          • HemmD


            The point was was trying to make was that blaming Democrats for the “one against the other” game that hurts both blacks and latinos is exactly half right. The republicans that run manufacturing, processing, and housing are quite happy to use undocumented labor and charge their customers full price. They cheat their workers and pass the savings on to no one.

            I want to charge those who underpay, not those who are underpaid. Your right that blacks have gotten screwed by this cozy arrangement. So have Latinos. So have you and me by having to pay for a fiction regular rate of pay.

            I believe the undocumented must first go to the back of the proverbial citizenship line before they become citizens. That’s the fairest way to give them the chance I’m willing to offer them. In the meantime, nail those who have hired them while working to keep them illegal.

            I hope that helps explain my comment. It’s not about one party over another, it’s about power and trying to keep it at others expense.

          • HemmD

            As far as the health care idea, my only concern would be where do the undocumented come up with $5000 if they’ve been working at illegally low wages.

            I see where you’re going, but I can’t see how we’d get there.

  • AustinRoth

    BTW Joe – keep fooling yourself into believing the public at large has not soured on ObamaCare, or it is only scare tactic and lies (the usual Left response when people refuse to go along with their ill-conceived land grabs).

    One again, hubris will bring the Left down, as it assuredly did the Right when they thought they had all the answers, all dissent was invalid, and that they had a self-perpetuating majority and mandate.

  • Jim_Satterfield

    Displays of Republican rationality via Donklephant:

    Yes, I know that undoubtedly some of the people in the McCaskill audience were Democrats. But all except the partisan Republicans know what’s going on in most of these gatherings. And yes, some of the Birther fools are Democratic too. The majority of this foolishness is coming from the Republicans, though.

  • elrod

    Seems Marc Ambinder read my piece… I said that Kenneth Gladney was a Democratic plant – not because he was, but because the bizarre, over-the-top contradictions of the anti-health reform side have effectively neutered the Right as a serious opposition.

  • mjbednar

    Yes, I played the race card because it’s true. I have yet to see on CNN, ABC, NBC, or CBS one African-American or other non-white person complain about Obama’s health care reforms. Thankfully, I don’t watch Faux News.

    • thomj

      mjbednar, You should be happy to know that I just watched a black woman escorted out of a town-hall meeting for getting physical. How much you wanna bet she supports the bill?

  • daveinboca

    Herr Satterfeld, as usual your DNC training has taught you to consider this a partisan issue. Many and perhaps even most of the people who don’t like Health Care dislike the government screws up everything it touches, as even Obama admitted re the Post Office vs. FedEx & UPS. The Republicans are one minute, according to the DNC bloviation squads, totally disorganized and the next minute behind a vast conspiracy to overturn a specious bunch of overblown and half-baked “reform” proposals railroaded through a House led by a madwoman with a single-digit approval rating. Make up your minds over there.

    70+& of Americans are satisfied with their own health plans and don’t want incompetent and meddlesome government bureaucrats bossing them around, If you had a job in the private sector, you’d understand. So punch your DNC timecard and go offline….

  • Jim_Satterfield

    If the government screws up everything it touches why do we give so many of their employees guns? Bombs? Tanks? Gee, it somehow just doesn’t make sense.

    • Guest

      Jim_Satterfield, don’t forget the VA hospitals.

      I’m a Vietnam era vet and I get FREE government health care… and it’s excellent care.

      I was in the VA hospital yesterday and my primary care doctor wants me to monitor my blood pressure over the course of a month… and they gave me a FREE blood pressure monitor.

      The VA is socialist government run heath care…they are now doing a great job after all the Bush VA hospital scandals.

      • Dr J

        “The VA is socialist government run heath care…they are now doing a great job after all the Bush VA hospital scandals.”

        Dave, in other words the government does a terrific job sometimes. That’s not inconsistent with what the skeptics are saying. But we should aim higher than that.

  • Guest

    superdestroyer: “I also doubt if any non-whites care about how the U.S. is going to fund free healthcare for millions of illegal aliens.”

    Loose the knee-jerk, right-wing talking points and use the brain God gave you.

    How do you think illegals use America’s heath-care now? HMO’s?

    Because they don’t has access to preventive health-care, they go to the emergency room for extremely expensive care including surgeries, scans, tests… healthcare that you and I pay for.

    Frankly I don’t know the solution but there needs to be one

    However, your statement about funding illegal heath care is a canard and probably racist in nature.

    Taxpayers are ALREADY funding illegals though our emergency room health care.

  • superdestroyer


    Emergency Rooms do not really lead to much in the way of expensive surgeries for chronic conditions. Of course, they do run up the costs of trauma. Now, if you could point to a member of the Congressional Black Caucus who has addressed the illegal immigrant problem, I would appreciate it. They just seem to providing benefits to blacks while taxing whites.

  • StockBoySF

    The Republicans place political points above the interests of the American people, whether it’s Obama and our armed forces rescuing Americans held hostage for fourth world pirates, Obama figuring out how to save Americans from hard labor at the hands of some loony dictator, or whether it’s Obama wanting more Americans (including children, who have no choice) to have healthcare. I’m not too keen on Obama’s plan, but it’s better than the do-nothing crowd.

    There are plenty of issues that the Republicans could have input on, if they really cared for their constituents and the country. But all they can do is attack Obama for doing his job, even when his actions benefit all Americans.

    I’ll be so glad when the GOP grows up. They’re sore losers and are throwing tantrums like kids. Democracy spoke and the GOP feels that the only way they can be heard is to shout the loudest. It’s not true, Obama has sought their input, but they’re swiftly turning into the party of nuts forgoing even the slightest bit of reason.

    The Republicans I know who voted for McCain are quickly falling into two camps… the ones who thought Obama would do a good job but had philosophical differences with him and then those Republicans who hate Obama. The former, those with philosophical differences, are so fed up with the GOP that they are considering (mostly) to switch parties. Those who hate Obama are most definitely staying in the Republican Party.

    It’s easy to tune out stark raving looneys. Until they shoot someone.

    • Dr J

      “It’s easy to tune out stark raving looneys. Until they shoot someone.”

      Then let’s just tax people to death. But gradually, so they can keep tuning it out.

      • GeorgeSorwell

        Dr J–

        We’re actually running a huge deficit so people don’t have to pay taxes. In fact, George W Bush cut taxes in spite of running two poorly managed wars and creating the Medicare drug benefit.

        • Dr J

          “We’re actually running a huge deficit so people don’t have to pay taxes.”

          Don’t you mean “so people don’t have to pay *more* taxes”?

  • AustinRoth

    The other point that I cannot avoid seeing is despite all the cries of astroturfing thrown at those who oppose ObamaCare, they show up with almost exclusively homemade signs (when they have signs), are not dressed in the same slogonized or logo shirts, and actually live in the districts.

    The ‘supporters’ seem to have a plethora of pre-printed, matching signs and placards, wear similar or identical shirts and pants (to identify each other), and seem to go from meeting to meeting, regardless of where they live. But they are the ‘grassroots’ support.

  • EEllis

    My Asshat rep. Gene Green is doing a series of town halls. Here is the joke he voted against having ID to vote, but will require Photo ID to attend his town halls. I guess being sure who shows up to his town halls is much more important than who votes.

  • gmerits

    The first theory ignores the real data – polls. Nothing is mentioned about the polls because the first theory fails on its merits if polling data is included int the analysis.

    Polling indicates a growing dissatisfaction with ObamaCare that drops by the day. He is losing seniors big time – and they are the largest voting bloc in mid-term elections. As the town halls became more vocal, support for ObamaCare eroded further – not something one would expect of a backlash. Blue Dogs and other Democrats are quite aware of this and it is the poll numbers that will dictate their voting behavior. Should they choose to ignore the polls and vote for ObamaCare, look for a real backlash in 2010. So theory one looks like swiss cheese upon further scrutiny and is not worthy of additional discussion (the extra CO2 required would exacerbate global warming).

    Marc Ambinder of the Atlantic is following the media script of “backlash, backlash, backlash!” in an effort to silence the town halls, because they are eroding support for ObamaCare. Of course, nobody is listening to such nonsense. Whatever does pass – if anything at all – will be a watered down version of reform. August 22nd is national recess rally day – look for some real fireworks by millions, not a few hundred at a town hall. It won’t be so easy to dismiss that level of protest. I can’t wait to see Nanny state Nancy try. She is the gift that keeps on giving.

    Blue Dogs are also aware of the opt out amendments in Florida and Utah and up to ten other states that will be using the 10th amendment to fight ObamaCare. Throw that dynamic in the mix.

    If the first theory is true and the town halls have backfired, why are the poll numbers for Obama and his health care plan plunging? Explain that with the first theory.

    If you want real backlash, check out and look at the connections the little girl’s parents have with Obama. Documented, proved and case closed. Obama lies once again, stating the members of his town hall were not screened. Of course, anyone with half a brain knew better. Look for further plunging poll numbers. Everytime Obama opens his mouth on the subject the numbers drop. Marc’s sense of “relief” at the White House belongs in the same boat as Obama stating he was never for a single payer system – fabricated.

  • rudi

    Obama admitted re the Post Office vs. FedEx & UPS.

    LOL This has more to do with the Internets and email, than that darn old Post Office. Why spend 45 cent when you can tweet or email for free.

  • DLS

    Any excuse the Usual Suspects have to mischaracterize all (widespread, unsurprising to all but the stupid) public opposition to the rash health care effort will be employed. This has been predictable. And after all, targeting select individuals for “special treatment” is no surprise from the lefties truly full of hatred.

  • DLS

    “The ‘supporters’ seem to have a plethora of pre-printed, matching signs and placards, wear similar or identical shirts and pants (to identify each other), and seem to go from meeting to meeting, regardless of where they live”

    It’s not just that.

    Obama joined the current crazy health care effort by continuing his campaign behavior (which now only appeals to the truly gullible; how pathetic can these people be? Of course, they’re also the ones who will unthinkingly insist that this health care effort succeed, ideal for staged shows to manipulate public opinion, even though fewer and fewer of the rest of the public is manipulable, too…) with staged “Town Hall” appearances. Manufactured, organized, the _real_ instance of such a thing, for deception purposes.

    Opposition to the health care effort (a continuatino of growing opposition to what else the Dems have been doing, more and more in succeeding months this year) is dishonestly mischaracterized, hypocritically, by the opposition as “manufactured” or “organized” to make fools believe it’s not authentic, whereas it is, of course — and includes even those on the farther Left, who are drowned out when they manage to get on liberal media outlets such as CNN programming.

    Then, what do we see on the extreme fringe Left (“health care is a right; the true party of hatred, hating anyone not lock-step mindlessly leftish) but a “need” to organize “in response” [sic] — including the unsurprising instances of violence such as we saw involving SEIU, an example of common leftist hatred finding a suitable outlet.

    (Incidentally, will SEIU and AFSCME be joining ACORN on Main Street during the Census next year?)

  • DLS

    “Of course, nobody is listening to such nonsense.”

    The Atlantic (resembling the Militant in this case) or the other liberal media? Their obscession with a few loudest protesters and their blatant mischaraterization of widespread public growing opposition to the Dems’ ever-progressively-worsening misconduct (not limited to health care, of course) and hatred for the public who isn’t mindlessly obeying Obama and the Congressional Dems’ edicts, only worsens their own reputation. It’s not surprising they’d collaborate with the Dems, but disgusting how low they will stoop.

  • DLS

    “He is losing seniors big time – and they are the largest voting bloc in mid-term elections”

    That’s a _huge_ issue missed or deliberately suppressed by the media. It’s not only the history of other government encroachment into health care such as the Oregon “list” of this being paid for, but not that, or liberal academics involved with “ethics” and the rationalization of rationing and disfavoring of the elderly (not to mention experience with government elsewhere such as the National Health Service in the UK).

    Simply the fact that one way quickly (rashly and cynically) decided to pay for part of the expansion of federal health care to new beneficiaries was simply to swipe half a trillion dollars out of Medicare, whose reform and saving was deliberately deferred, was enough to make a lot of seniors (current beneficiaries of Medicare) nervous and resentful — obviously.

    (But the fools who stupidly support this effort insist on being ignorant about this, while hypocritically saying at the same time that government health care is good by naming _Medicare_, specifically, as their example of excellence!)

  • Funny how you claim only white men go to these things and yet the SEIU thugs Obama called out to try (you failed) to outnumber or intimidate the protesters have targeted blacks and women among the protesters for violence.

  • President Obama seems to be a congenital liar, and perhaps a little more stupid than his fans thought. A product of a long process of social promotion and congenial B studenthood, perhaps. (If he would release his transcripts we would know.)

    Faced with dropping poll numbers and nationwide protests by angry voters, President Obama conducted a Potemkin Village townhall in New Hampshire, much like Stalin created fake Russian villages with fake prosperity and villagers ordered to smile and answer correctly to Western journalists. The New Hampshire Potemkin townhall was pathetic. Over 1,000 anti-Obamacare protesters were outside. Inside, staged softball questions, including one from a wee moppet whose mom ran part of Obama’selection campaign in Massachusetts….
    Steve Eisenberg, medical director of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota, September 19, 2001, at
    Geri Aston, AMNews staff, “Medicare sound for now, but long-term outlook is=2 0gloomy,” April 17, 2000, Amednews.
    com: The Newspaper for America’s Physicians, at
    “Health Policy Discussion” from “Productivity in Health Care: The Value of Medical Technology,” AEI Conference, February 28, 2001, at
    Leigh Hopper, “Hip replacement firm issues recall,” Houston Chronicle, January 23, 2001, at
    Mark H. Gurda, “Rising costs, September 18, 2000,” at

    Bruce Majors is an unpaid Tea Party community organizer

  • charity01

    Who are these so called 70% of the people saying they are pleased with their healthcare! Polls only reflect the opinions of 1000 to 1100 so how can any say this speaks for millions of Americans. It doesn’t! The majority of Americans spoke on Nov 4th! This is a pathetic attempt to hang on to the status quo. Again, you don’t speak for me! I spoke on Nov 4th and will speak again in 2010 & 2012. Have these people not heard of lay-offs!

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