Members of Congress have been burned in effigy and told they are going to hell for supporting health care reform. They have been shouted down in televised town hall meeting after town hall meeting, where there has been virtually no opportunity for substantive discussion. Paradoxically, these protesters are helping Democrats pass health care legislation – if only members of Congress coming under attack can look beyond the insanity at these forums to see what the American public at large is seeing.
Earlier this year, conventional wisdom dictated that Congress needed to pass health care reform before leaving for its August recess precisely because special interest groups, right wing talking heads and the Republican National Committee would unleash a barrage of advertisements aimed at derailing reform during the break.
Indeed, President Obama initially insisted on the August deadline for passage for this very reason.
And yet, as town hall meetings this August have shown, any rational opposition to reform – and there is a rational case to be made against various Democratic proposals – has fallen victim to vitriol and hyperbole, which only strengthens the president’s cause.
Leaders of the Republican Party have become unhinged from any facts when discussing health care reform. What are rational voters to think when Sarah Palin, nominated just last year to stand one heartbeat away from the highest office in the land, accuses Obama of running a “death panel” that may kill her child?
What are they to think of former Speaker Newt Gingrich, the de facto face of the Republican Party, who claims that health care reform will lead to euthanasia?
What are they to think when Rush Limbaugh compares the Democratic Party to the Nazi Party?
Perhaps Limbaugh should pay a quick visit to the Auschwitz death camp before making such spurious analogies. His vitriol may help his ratings – but they do nothing to help his cause with the majority of Americans whose support he needs to truly derail meaningful health care reform.
These town hall meetings have featured seniors warning government to keep its nose out of Medicare –the largest government entitlement programs. Others have insisted that Democrats are pushing for a British single-payer plan, despite all evidence to the contrary, and would mete out worse treatment for the disabled. Consider this gem from Investor’s Business Daily: “People such as scientist Stephen Hawking wouldn't have a chance in the U.K., where the National Health Service would say the life of this brilliant man, because of his physical handicaps, is essentially worthless.” For the record, Stephen Hawkins was born in the U.K. and has lived there for 67 years.
President Obama’s job approval ratings currently hover somewhere around 53%. Do Republican Party leaders truly believe that more than half of the American public supports a president who would euthanize babies with Down’s syndrome and the elderly?
Do they truly believe that the majority of voters would support the leader of a party that employs the same tactics as Adolph Hitler?
Clearly, despite the media frenzy to televise the debacle at these meetings, most Americans are not buying these outlandish claims, precisely because the allegations are so preposterous.
In this, opponents of reform have overplayed their hand. As in any complex piece of legislation, there is enough substantive criticism to find in the various health care proposals currently floating through Congress.
Instead, they have resorted to shouting matches, scare tactics and offensive analogies, which any rational person understands have nothing to do with reality.
Members of Congress facing these lynch mobs must understand that these protests, whether sincere or not, do not reflect the views of the majority of Americans. Once the television cameras are off, the vitriol will die down – and Americans will get the health care reform our nation and our budget so drastically needs.
Julie Roginsky is a CNBC contributor who has extensive experience in government, politics and public relations on both the federal and state levels including serving as the Washington communications director for former Senator Jon Corzine.