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The Audacity of Dissent By: Gregory Gethard
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, August 14, 2009

Call them community organizers.

All across the country, Americans alarmed by the Obama administration’s proposed overhaul of health care have been coming together to vent their concerns in town-hall meetings and protests. Some are worried about the possible effects of ObamaCare on health care services, the cost of insurance, and the recovery of the economy; others are troubled by the intrusion of government into their lives.

Given his background, one might expect President Obama to take seriously this vigorous grassroots reaction to his policies. Instead, aided by Congressional Democrats, the White House has taken to painting this mass outpouring of civic discontent as a fringe phenomenon – driven by extremists, un-American in its aims, and requiring careful monitoring so that any “fishy” concerns and criticisms about the administration’s health care plans are reported to the proper (read: government) channels.

The town-hall critics won’t be so easily silenced. One of the primary reasons so many have flocked to these meetings concerns the cost of the reforms that the administration seeks. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated the cost of the Senate’s proposed health care bill at $1 trillion. With a price tag of that size, many are concerned about its potential to increase the ever-growing budget deficit, which the Obama administration itself says will approach $1.84 trillion by 2010. A deficit that big, many worry, could have dire ramifications for the economy.

On the minds of many, too, is the possibility that the administration will raise taxes on the middle class – even as it has denied all intentions of doing so. But the arithmetic of health care reform only serves to bolster suspicions of a looming tax hike. In order to pay for the plan, the government must raise $544 billion in taxes, which will supposedly come from those making $250,000 per year or more. But given that consumer spending still has yet to rebound, and that personal incomes are still falling, it’s hard to see how instituting $544 billion in new taxes will benefit the economy. And if the rich don’t generate the required revenue, the middle class will likely be forced to pick up the tab.

Cost is just one of the contentious questions surrounding ObamaCare. Others are concerned about the government intruding into their health care. The administration boasts that they are simply creating a government-sponsored health care plan that would compete with private insurers. But this presents many problems for the private insurers with which the government intends to compete. According to Texas Republican Congressman Lamar Smith, who wrote in the Christian Science Monitor:

Obama's claim that "if you like your healthcare plan, you can keep your healthcare plan" rings hollow. Government intervention in private markets has consequences. A public option wouldn't "level the playing field" – it would destroy it. After all, a government plan can afford to lose money indefinitely. Private plans don't have that luxury. Unable to match the government's market manipulation, they'd soon fold. Employers would drop private insurance, thereby decreasing choice and moving the country toward a single-payer system. Without private insurers making up the difference, government-controlled prices would reduce the supply of healthcare services and lead to further rationing.

Many are also concerned about so-called “death panels” in which a government bureaucrat could be placed in a position to determine if it would cost too much money to keep someone alive. While there is certainly some hysteria about this fear, the fact is that the government does intend to play a role during end-of-life scenarios. If some version of ObamaCare is passed, doctors may be given an incentive to go over end-of-life counseling with patients; to receive these funds, a doctor must adhere to a government-enforced list of questions during these sessions. ABC News chief medical editor, Dr. Timothy Johnson, supports these provisions, but he warns that they may cross a line, saying that this provision “maybe has too much the flavor of reporting back to big government or big brother."

With so much to dislike in the health care legislation, it’s easy to see why people have been turning out in droves to town hall meetings. And the numbers show that people are against it: a recent Rasmussen Reports survey found that 53% now oppose the plan, up nine points since the end of June. Re The backlash against health care reform is also reflected in the president’s slipping polling numbers. According to a Quinnipiac poll, 52 percent of people surveyed no longer support the way Obama is handling the health care issue. And he currently has a 50 percent approval rating, down 7 percent in a single month – largely, it seems, because of health care.

Unable to convince the public to support its reforms, the administration, with Congressional Democrats leading the charge, has turned on the growing opposition. While Obama has started to bend the facts in his public statements about health care, other Democrats are making disparaging remarks about the vocal opposition at town hall meetings. In a USA Today op-ed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer called the town-hall protests “un-American.”

Now-Democrat Arlen Specter has found himself embroiled in this fray. Earlier this week, Specter hosted a series of Town Hall meetings throughout central Pennsylvania; much like his brethren across the country, he has been met with very loud crowds opposed to health care. However, Specter has cast their opinions aside, saying these people were “unrepresentative” of the American people, despite polls showing otherwise. Missouri Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill publicly admonished an audience that had become loud during her comments. There’s even video of longtime Democratic Michigan Congressman John Dingell comparing the town hall demonstrators to the Ku Klux Klan.

But while the House Democrats are painting those opposed to health care reform as un-American, the administration has decided to go another route entirely. Last week, on its official website, The White House asked citizens to report on each other:

There is a lot of disinformation about health insurance reform out there, spanning from control of personal finances to end of life care. These rumors often travel just below the surface via chain emails or through casual conversation. Since we can’t keep track of all of them here at the White House, we’re asking for your help. If you get an email or see something on the web about health insurance reform that seems fishy, send it to flag@whitehouse.gov.

The mainstream media has also helped paint the town-hall protesters as fringe extremists. Timeswatch, a website that monitors biase in New York Times articles, has done an excellent job comparing media coverage of the health care debate versus coverage of George W. Bush’s attempts at overhauling Social Security. One glaring example of the Times’ portrayal of the town hall protestors was clear on Tuesday, when an article on Specter’s meeting described angry crowds that were “almost entirely white and irritable.” Yes those that heckled then-Senator Rick Santorum at a similar style meeting held in 2005 were described as “freewheeling.”

It’s a new age of irony that we live in. The president is a self-described community organizer who used his skills at grassroots activism to launch a populist movement that swept him into office. Now his administration, along with its Congressional allies, is worried about a determined civic movement that is turning against it.

The folks turning up for the town-halls may be maligned by their elected officials. They may be painted as rage-filled lunatics by the media. But unfortunately for the Obama administration and its transformational vision for health care, they aren’t going away.

Gregory Gethard is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer.

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