Both the traditional and new media are abuzz with the outpouring of lunatic rage on the part of the extremist Right at pointless healthcare reform town halls across America.
As has been hashed out at considerable length already, these protests do little to advance the cause of the Right, only serving to make the GOP seem even more extreme than the general public already believes it to be. But they do serve one single purpose useful to the status quo: they are a bluffing, desperate ploy to psych out congressional Democrats.
Because the fact is that at least in the House, a significant number of Republicans are going to vote for healthcare reform. The only question is what it will look like, and how far the reform will go.
How do I know this? I got it straight from the horse's mouth.
Congresswoman Lois Capps (D-CA23) represents much of Central California's coastline, particularly around the Santa Barbara area. While I live just outside her district in CA-24, I had the opportunity to have her on my weekly AM radio show last month to discuss healthcare reform, and on Wednesday she spoke before a gathering of Working Blue, a local Democratic club in Ventura, CA representing labor groups and interests.
Her speech on healthcare was mostly the usual: Republicans and their allies are spending a lot of money to defeat healthcare reform; the legislation isn't perfect, but we're working to win as many allies as possible and get it passed; activists are needed to help maintain support for the public option by talking to neighbors, phonebanking, etc.
But two points stood out as newsworthy from her speech. First and less importantly, the Congresswoman is not holding staged town halls, and thereby not giving the local crazy wingnut coalition the opportunity to drown out information and debate by bullying and intimidation. She is instead holding online forums on healthcare and stopping in randomly to talk with real people. This seems to be a no-brainer: unless we actively want to give Republican teabaggers opportunities to shoot themselves in the foot, the town halls are less than useless in attempting to gain support for healthcare reform: progressives are not motivated to show up because we don't know what's in the bill and because the lack of discussion of single payer is leaving many of our activists in the cold; the Right isn't interested in honest debate; and the middle can be reached out to via other means.
But the real newsworthy information from Ms. Capps' speech was this: Republicans will vote for the final bill because they can't afford to be seen as obstructing on healthcare reform. According to Ms. Capps, former Minority Whip Roy Blunt told her the following:
We can't support the current bill at this time, but we will probably support whatever comes out of the reconciliation process. [wink]
Ms. Capps went on to clarify that this is not because the bill will be watered down (which it will doubtless be once Max Baucus is through with it), so much as because many GOP members will be in serious trouble if they vote down healthcare reform, and they know it. This was such a surprise to me, that I had to confirm with her that it was indeed on the record and that she could be quoted on it.
Get this straight: Republicans are going to oppose this bill now to weaken it as much as possible, but will vote for it in significant numbers when all is said and done, because they cannot afford not to. So why are we listening to them, again?
Republicans know that once a public option passes, people will want to be on it, and they will love it. Just like they love Social Security, and just like they love Medicare. They know that despite the $1.4 million/day disinformation campaign, the public widely supports the principles of a real public option. And the last thing Republican representatives want to deal with is advertisements from Democratic challengers accusing them of voting to allow insurance companies to deny coverage based on pre-existing conditions, or to charge exorbitant rates for care.
And that's why the insane protests are happening. Far from being on the offensive, the GOP is deeply on the defensive. They know that many of their members pretty much HAVE to vote "aye" on healthcare reform. They're stuck. All they can do is make an attempt to bluff and psychologically intimidate Congressional Dems.
It's time the Dems stopped giving them the opportunity.
Cancel the townhalls, and do them online. Activate neighbor-to-neighbor networks and conversations. Appear extemporaneously and by surprise with regular citizens.
And then get back to Washington and pass a bill with a public option. We've got nothing to lose, and everything to gain. It's the GOP in a tight spot with the voters--not the Democrats.