Feature

Health care debate: Too hot?

Do the rowdy protest 'mobs' at Democratic town halls mean health-care reform is in danger, or the congressmen?

Things are getting ugly in the health-care reform debate, said Joan Walsh in Salon. At town hall meetings nationwide, angry “mobs” of “frothing right-wingers” are trying to create “town hells,” shouting down Democratic lawmakers, and worse—one's been hanged in effigy, another received death threats, and a third is under police escort. This isn’t “populism,” it’s a growing “hysteria fed by lies peddled by GOP leaders and corporate interests.”

“There’s a new tone in the debate, and it’s ugly,” said Peggy Noonan in The Wall Street Journal. But President Obama and his “desperate” Democrats are only making “a hot situation hotter.” They’re the ones who’ve bungled health-care reform by pushing a “huge new entitlement,” yet their “stunningly crude and aggressive” response to the legitimate, palpable fear of “concerned citizens” is to mock and menace them.

The town hall mobs do “appear to be genuinely angry,” said Paul Krugman in The New York Times. The question is, why? The fear isn’t based on policy—there’s no one bill in place, and many of those who say they’re opposed to government-run health care are on Medicare—so it’s probably personal, based on culture and “racial anxiety.” If Obama can’t “recapture some of the passion of 2008” for his side of the debate, the mob will win.

It’s probably too late, said Michael Gerson in The Washington Post. Obama squandered his “political honeymoon” on the $787 billion stimulus bill, which both lost him the “many seniors and white men” who’d given him a second look after voting for John McCain, and forced him to sell health-care reform on its supposed financial merits. We’re not buying it.

It’s easy to forget now, but during the 2008 campaign, Obama “sometimes just wasn’t very good,” said John Dickerson in Slate. He found his voice on the trail, and he could still “work out his riff” on health care. But it won’t be easy. He needs a single bill “he can fight for,” and a way to be heard through the "bickering and spitting” of the town hall “shouting matches.” Looking at the polls, he’s not getting through now.

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