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A Word on Demonstrators

I've been attending health-care panels and events on a pretty regular basis for four or five years now. Each event, of course, is its own precious snowflake, with its own set of graphs and bullet points and dweebish jokes. But one thing is perfectly predictable: The Q&A session will be dominated by single-payer activists asking about HR 676.

There's not a mystery as to why this happens: Single-payer activists are very well organized, and they make a point to dispatch their people to these events and get their members to the microphone and ensure that their perspective is heard. But as the bills under consideration suggest, politicians have had no problem ignoring the single-payer grassroots. Max Baucus ruled out their participation on day one. The media hasn't shown the slightest inclination to cover their presence at event after event after event.

That's worth keeping in mind as people begin to focus on the anti-health-care tea parties. The political system does not have some sort of consistent reaction to grassroots pressure. Rather, it picks and chooses when it wants to listen to the views of the very, very non-representative groups of people who sit through at town halls and panel discussions.

By Ezra Klein  |  August 4, 2009; 1:43 PM ET
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That dastardly liberal media! Wait...

Posted by: Castorp1 | August 4, 2009 1:46 PM | Report abuse

"The media hasn't shown the slightest inclination to cover their presence at event after event after event."

Not dispute this, because you are right that cable news is not on this. But to give credit where credit is due, NPR did have a segment in the middle of July about healthcare reform that had this question being asked and then Obama answereing it. Followed by a discussion of what was actually on the table and then an interview with Jonathan Cohn. That was a pretty good piece.

Posted by: Castorp1 | August 4, 2009 1:49 PM | Report abuse

Excellent point.

Posted by: eRobin1 | August 4, 2009 2:01 PM | Report abuse

"each event, of course, is its own precious snowflake"

you are a precious snowflake!

Posted by: jkaren | August 4, 2009 2:10 PM | Report abuse

Maybe you're right, but I think that progressives and liberal Democrats ignore these thugs at their peril. Of course, I don't have a good answer on how to respond, either.

Posted by: JEinATL | August 4, 2009 2:34 PM | Report abuse

The biggest problem is that people are not knowledgeable about the facts of health care reform. We get little soundbites, but not the real issues. You can click on a YouTube video that was the centerpiece of national grassroots discussions, that lays out the basic issues.

Posted by: thetributeseries | August 4, 2009 2:36 PM | Report abuse

happy birthday wishes
for president obama!
* * * * * * * *

Posted by: jkaren | August 4, 2009 2:40 PM | Report abuse

Tell us again, Ezra, how the insurance industry and its lobbyists are just innocent victims and bystanders in this debate when they seem to be coordinating with the teabaggers in launching town hall attacks:

Posted by: cmpnwtr | August 4, 2009 4:14 PM | Report abuse

I love the 'liberal' media.

I don't mind that the 'liberal' media like PBS and NPR give conservatives a voice (Seen 'Ascent of Money'?) - a range of perspectives *is* a liberal value - but I do mind that media that practices false 'Liberals say sky is blue, some disagree' or actually gives conservatives airtime and *ignores* liberal viewpoints is called 'liberal'.


Posted by: Jonnan | August 4, 2009 4:23 PM | Report abuse

If the single-payer activists have, as Mr. Klein notes, been regualrly attending these events for (at least) five years then their continued presence is not "news". However, public opposition to the the Democratic health bills is newsworthy.

Posted by: tbass1 | August 4, 2009 4:26 PM | Report abuse

I don't know if this is an indirect response to something I or someone else said about grassroots pressure and your discounting of it. What you are chronicling here and putting into the same bin are the disruptive tactics of the conservative hooligans and the orderly single-payer questioners that show up at these meetings.

To be sure, as non-parliamentary tactics, the conservative hooligans if they persist in disrupting these meetings will probably have a much greater effect than the occasional rational and well-prepared single-payer advocate that steps up to the microphone or even occasionally yells out that they are not represented at the "table". So policymakers may not be entirely choosers in paying attention to one or the other side in this debate.

So, I don't think we have seen a real social movement in favor of any of the more progressive options. Single-payer advocates would need to bring out a corps of doctors in force in front of the Capitol, for instance. Think of doctor's strikes in France or even the protests about changes in the NHS in England. We don't have anything like that yet. We may never and then we will probably have reform that is correspondingly ineffective.

Posted by: michaelterra | August 4, 2009 4:59 PM | Report abuse

O.K. I understand. The Insurance companies have bought the politicians on both sides. But have they also bought the Washington Post and the NY Times who never, I repeat never run an analysis of Medicare for All (HR767) or a careful comparison of our health insurance system with those in other countries?

Pleaes explain this to me.

Perplexed in Princeton

Posted by: lensch | August 4, 2009 10:17 PM | Report abuse

The book and the movie a "Civil Action" concern the town of Woburn, MA whose drinking water was being polluted by 3 factories and whose children were dying of leukemia, and it concerns a young lawyer who tried to get funds from one of the companies so that the people could afford treatment for their children.

The company hired an old semi-retired lawyer who happened to be the teacher of the judge in the case. Robert Duvall plays this old lawyer in the film.

At one point, depositions are being taken from the sick kids and the parents of those who have died. As you may imagine, it is heart rendering. As the people are leaving the room, Robert Duvall's character turns to one of his associates and says in the most chilling voice, "This testimony must never see the light of day." And it didn't.

I can envision a similar scene where the moguls of the insurance industry are hearing the facts on heath care, on the waste of private insurance. I can hear the chief PR person saying to her associate, "These facts must never see the light of day." And they haven't.

Posted by: lensch | August 4, 2009 10:49 PM | Report abuse

This also illustrates why, although liberals support health care reform, it's sometimes hard to get them to turn out to support it with the same vehemence of the Tea Baggers. What gets people energized is clear, big ideas, like single-payer health care. A clean sweep, that replaces a messy and egregious system with something that's simple and fair. Compromises are inherently unattractive -- no one is passionate about "bending the curve" or whatever. You need to have people out there energized and advocating the clean, idealistic version, and if compromise is needed, do that at the end, not before the August campaign. Who the heck wants to go to a town hall and sing the praises of tax refunds, insurance mandates, and an insignificant public option? Well, some do -- but many more would turn out if they thought the glorious single-payer plan were in the offing, even if such an option were, realistically, unlikely.

Posted by: Ulium | August 4, 2009 11:16 PM | Report abuse

Ulium writes:

"...although liberals support health care reform, it's sometimes hard to get them to turn out to support it with the same vehemence of the Tea Baggers."

The Democrats' leadership seems to have concluded that opposition to single payer would be more widespread and/or vehement still.

"What gets people energized is clear, big ideas, like single-payer health care."

Not yet it hasn't.

Part of the problem could be that single payer, as practiced elesewhere, hasn't been as successful - and our current system's performance hasn't been as bad - as single-payer proponents claim.

Posted by: tbass1 | August 5, 2009 10:34 AM | Report abuse

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