Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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April 22, 2011

LOUD ENOUGH TO BE HEARD.... Rep. Paul Ryan's (R) town-hall meeting in his Wisconsin district this week turned out to be one of the more interesting developments. The House Budget Committee chairman defended tax breaks for the wealthy, and was, surprisingly, roundly booed by his constituents.

Jason Linkins noted yesterday that we've seen a few similar examples pop up this week, with other GOP lawmakers facing unhappy voters in their districts, due entirely to the right-wing budget plan approved by the House last week. Linkins specifically pointed to exchanges involving Reps. Robert Bold (R-Ill.), Lou Barletta, (R-Pa.), and Charlie Bass (R-N.H.). Eliminating Medicare, and replacing it with a privatized voucher system, seemed especially controversial.

That's a good start, but four mildly contentious town-hall gatherings does not a major pushback make. Dave Weigel argues, persuasively, that the left will have to do far more to shake up the debate in Washington.

The town halls of 2009 -- dry runs in June, and really volcanic ones in August -- changed the way that Washington talked about the law that would become the Affordable Care Act. And there was a science to them. Democrats took a long, lumbering time to figure that science out. But they haven't copied it. Not yet. [...]

The lack of anger on display leaves an impression: Perhaps Ryan's Medicare plan isn't inducing mass panic as the Democrats' Medicare plans did.... If that impression sticks, Republicans will return to Washington in May with the knowledge that the polls are a little overheated and Ryan's budget is a go.

Where are the liberal protesters? Is there a brilliant rope-a-dope strategy in place, some plan to get Republicans even further out on a limb before hammering them in the August recess? Possibly. Labor strategists say that there'll be a much bigger focus on generating turnout at town halls come August.

The 2009 example sets a certain standard, but it's likely to prove difficult for the left to copy. After all, two years ago, the right had a remarkably well organized campaign underway, with major far-right financiers investing in lobbying organizations, which in turn brought/created grassroots activism. There was also a certain cable news network that, in conjunction with talk radio, effectively acted as a cosponsor for the right-wing pushback, literally airing the names, dates, and locations of public meetings so enraged Republicans knew when and where to throw tantrums.

Will Dems be able to duplicate this in 2011? It's highly unlikely.

But as we saw in Madison, the left doesn't necessarily need well-financed lobbying groups and media outlets to tell them what to do -- they just need to be outraged and willing to show up. There's some evidence that labor organizations are gearing up for broader activism.

Here's hoping it's successful. After the summer of 2009, Republicans returned to Capitol Hill feeling emboldened, and Democrats felt shell-shocked. It didn't derail health care reform, but it left Dems in an almost permanent state of defensiveness and encouraged timidity.

GOP officials can see polls showing how unpopular their agenda is, but until they see angry constituents telling them the Republican vision is unacceptable, the trajectory in Washington will remain the same.

Steve Benen 10:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

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Comments

Any idea why the New York Times did not report a single boo at Ryan's town hall? Could their heavily Wall Street readership be a clue?

Posted by: jjm on April 22, 2011 at 10:20 AM | PERMALINK

Don't worry the Democrats are beginning to stir. I think the Ryan town hall is just one example.

Out in the midwest the Unions are already on the march. So are a lot of good government types.

The National Democrats just don't know it yet. They are too busy going to cocktail parties to pick up their legalized bribes (er corporate campaign donations.)

Posted by: Ron Byers on April 22, 2011 at 10:21 AM | PERMALINK

How much does a box lunch and a bus ticket cost? Jeebus, give the geezers a roll of quarters, and tell 'em they are going to Trump Casino in Atlantic City.

Then, when they find out they are at their Rep's Town Hall Meeting instead, they'll be madder than Hell before they go through the door!

Posted by: DAY on April 22, 2011 at 10:22 AM | PERMALINK

Here's a meeting that did get a bit testy:

http://blogs.mcall.com/penn_ave/2011/04/a-slice-of-the-medicare-debate-in-barlettas-district.html

Interestingly, you can see here and in the Ryan video, people who are liberal calmly and rationally explaining their side. Now, compare this to the Town Halls over the last two years where righties went ballistic!

But here, it’s not the grumpy, no, angry, guy(s) who were yelling “Sit down!” and “Shut up!” to a women speaking in her turn who were escorted out, but the guy in the blue shirt who defending her who was expelled from the meeting.
And then the Congressman comes back with his talking point lies.

There is an unimistakable thug mentality on the right.

I think I missed an opportunity when I lived down South. I wish I’d opened up an apparel store for conservatives - “Rightie World Fashions,” where all of the clothing items sold would be designed to match brown and black shirts.
I could have make a mint opening up these stores by looking at the Congressional districts in states and picking the reddest one. Oh, and some of the shirt collars, and some of the pants seat bottoms could offer a red option - for the neck and for the ass.


Posted by: c u n d gulag on April 22, 2011 at 10:26 AM | PERMALINK

Altho Wisconsin is a great start, the progressives really need to show they are MAD AS HELL AND NOT GONNA TAKE IT ANYMORE. The problem is that those people are working...and those are the exact people the GOP is trying to marginalize. Are you SHOCKED?

Posted by: SYSPROG on April 22, 2011 at 10:26 AM | PERMALINK

Eliminating Medicare, and replacing it WITH a privatized voucher system, seemed especially controversial.

Sheesh.

Posted by: josef on April 22, 2011 at 10:33 AM | PERMALINK

Sad commentary on the state of politics when we need to count on mass anger to get politicians to do the right thing.

Does anger trump money?

Posted by: DK on April 22, 2011 at 10:37 AM | PERMALINK

One argument by Ryan and his ilk needs to be shot down. It is one he uses whenever someone questions him about not raising taxes on anyone making more than $250,000. His counter is that that person is a small business owner and taxes will harm his ability to create jobs. This is the argument shown in the clip run by Lawrence O'Donnell of that Town Hall meeting. O'Donnell led with the Obama Town Hall meeting and his inspriring speech to the assembled, then, juxtaposed it with Ryan's TH and the incoming flak he received.

Posted by: berttheclock on April 22, 2011 at 10:37 AM | PERMALINK

Labor strategists say....


??

Posted by: agave on April 22, 2011 at 10:46 AM | PERMALINK

@RON: You mean Liberals are too busy at their cocktail parties right? because "National Democrats" have been doing what they are supposed to do.

Posted by: Alli on April 22, 2011 at 10:51 AM | PERMALINK

Weigel is being a disingenuous hack. He really thinks that people gauge policy on this meta-level stuff, like what made people yell more in clips on the news? Come on.

Posted by: FlipYrWhig on April 22, 2011 at 10:57 AM | PERMALINK

OFA could use their immense email list to notify all of us of upcoming townhall meetings, particularly those of us in purple districts with recently-elected republicans. I know several folks who would be willing to show up, ask embarassing questions, and lead a hearty round of "boos" for the teevee cameras.

Posted by: chi res on April 22, 2011 at 10:57 AM | PERMALINK

"Does anger trump money?"

A better question is "Will Trump anger money?"

Unless Democrats and liberals show up at Republican townhall meetings next August as effing pissed off and heavily armed with automatic weaponry as the murderous Republican vermin who infested the environs of Democratic townhall meetings during the health care debate last year, we aren't serious.

Posted by: Countme-In on April 22, 2011 at 10:58 AM | PERMALINK

Do the people over 55 really think everyone younger is going to keep paying full price into a system so today's elderly get full benefits knowing they are going to get partial benefits when their time comes? How delusional can the elderly be?

Posted by: Th on April 22, 2011 at 11:00 AM | PERMALINK

Attending town hall meetings is one thing, but I think protests have pretty much obsolete since the MSM and the Bush Administration steadfastly ignored them from 2000 on. Remember the massive marches against the Iraq War in DC? Completely ignored and the war went ahead even though everything the liberals were saying came true, e.g. No stockpiles of WMD, no link to Al Qaeda, no involvement in 9/11, etc.

Those amazing protests in Wisconsin against union-busting? Completely ignored even though everything the liberals were saying came true, e.g. no savings from busting unions, tax cuts despite claims of being broke, cronyism, etc.

Put simply, protests are entirely reliant upon the publicity they receive, and produce no change if the public doesn't follow up on the message, e.g. "If a tree falls in the forest and no-one is around to witness it, did it really fall?"

Posted by: Kiweagle on April 22, 2011 at 11:00 AM | PERMALINK

Kiweagle, you are right if you focus entirely on the opinion makers in Washington and New York. The MSM is doing a good job of keeping those people invincibly ignorant. They still think the Tea Party has a life of its own.

On the other hand, out in the country those protests are beginning to take hold and change minds.

Alli the National Democrats need to be telling their friends at their cocktail parties that the local Democrats and liberals and old people and people in general are mad as hell and they are on the march. One or two of them might look at a local feed.

Things aren't just happening in Wisconsin. Ohio has been the home of some serious protests. Michigan is ablaze right now. People in Maine are pretty pissed. In my home state of Missouri, we are very, very angry that the Republican/Corporate legislature is doing all it can to repeal laws we the people passed. All of that is being missed by the national democrats and the national media. I go to Washington DC as little as possible. Trust me it isn't the center of the universe. Neither is Wall Street. There is a lot going on out here if you just look.

Posted by: Ron Byers on April 22, 2011 at 11:10 AM | PERMALINK

By the way, the Unions get it. They realize they are a fight for their very survival. I just wish the Democrats would understand that they are in the same fight for survival. Too much same, old same old.

Posted by: Ron Byers on April 22, 2011 at 11:13 AM | PERMALINK

"Do the people over 55 really think everyone younger is going to keep paying full price into a system so today's elderly get full benefits knowing they are going to get partial benefits when their time comes? How delusional can the elderly be?"
Posted by: Th on April 22, 2011 at 11:00 AM

Why not? Members of Congress expect to get full benefits for life for themselves and their families from these same "younger" taxpayers.

Posted by: Schtick on April 22, 2011 at 11:30 AM | PERMALINK

@Ron Byers on April 22, 2011 at 11:10 AM & 11:13AM - I thought about that too, and love the fact that the Unions are seeing huge increases in their donations for ads, but I would argue that this is all the result of networking rather than the protests, though they likely help with that process as well. The fact is that campaigns on Facebook get more action in seconds than the networking protests generate.

My point is that I've yet to see "liberal" protests (the MSM loves covering the Tea Party ones, even if only 12 people show up) make a real difference to the action to the cause they support.

Seriously, can you name a single liberal protest in the last decade that has resulted in a successful outcome, regardless of the size?

Door-to-door petitions for causes like recalls and voter registration are FAR more effective, as are mass phone calls (even robo-calls), and advertising. Who are you convincing when everybody that's attending the protest already feels the same way you do and there's no media coverage?

Posted by: Kiweagle on April 22, 2011 at 11:46 AM | PERMALINK

I agree with Kiweagle: protests and marches don't work well, because the press simply does not report them. Even at the height of the Vietnam war and the invasion of Cambodia, our march on Washington was the most immense thing I'd ever seen. The press: "250,000". Even my parents were skeptical of that number.

But now the NYT isn't even reporting on the town hall shouts against the Medicare disaster; they reported on Ryan's meet as if he were the constituents' darling and their preferred presidential candidate. Their poll on the GOP Medicare plan today claims 55% approve of the voucher system when ALL other polls show that is not the case. (Although they did mention the other polls and said that it does show 'how you ask the question' makes a difference.)

So: it boils down to what Wall Street will let the press report, pure and simple.

So yes, networking, the web, voter reg. are all that CAN work in these days of the business censorship of the news.

Posted by: jjm on April 22, 2011 at 11:53 AM | PERMALINK

Only Rethug protests get covered by the MSM. Actually they're over covered and inflated in their size and importance. No matter how much anger is expressed at so-called town meetings, the elected representatives know that the money supporting their reelection campaigns doesn't come from those expressing their anger and frustration. Increasingly the money comes from outside their district. Congressional races have effectively been nationalized, and the obscene Citizens United decision by our corporate supreme court has made it all worse.

I think we'll see fewer and fewer 'town meetings' as time goes on and as elections are even more blatantly bought than they are now. Remember the film Charlie King's War? Where he, the Congressman, says he has to keep the Jews happy? HIs companion reminds him that there aren't more than a half-dozen Jews in his back country district. King responds it's the Jews in LA, Miami, and New York who support him with money that he needs to worry about because they count on him to support Israel all the way.

I wonder what the price tag on a Congressman is these days. $1 Million, $2 Million, more?

So it is that our Congressmen no longer care that much about their districts, only where the money comes from, and whatever special interests that money represents.

Posted by: rrk1 on April 22, 2011 at 12:00 PM | PERMALINK

"How delusional can the elderly be?"

They elected thieving filth Rick Scott as Governor of Florida last November while getting their daily IV drip of Fox News as they sat in their Medicare-furnished wheelchairs in Medicaid nursing homes.

Next question.

The entire point of Ryan's Objectivist budget is to cordon off the the elderly into what will be known from now on as pure "welfare" programs, not available to the under-55s, who will then demand and engage in murderous generational warfare through the budget-cutting process.

The elderly will become just a bunch of parasitical fat black women driving Caddies under the prevailing murderous, fascist Luntzian/Reaganite grammar.


Posted by: Countme-In on April 22, 2011 at 12:02 PM | PERMALINK

What reason could DFA, OFA, PDA have for not creating an email program based on addresses they have and scheduled representative meetings to encourage people to go & speak there mind. I'm glad the Unions are but I think the Left relies on local chapters of these organizations for local event organizing and it's just not getting it done.

Posted by: Matt Finnegan on April 22, 2011 at 12:10 PM | PERMALINK

I no longer support the Democratic Party, but I will support the Labor Party, or the Labor wing of the Democratic Party. I will support only candidates who favor strong unions, card check, liveable minimum wage, progressive taxation, single payer health care, separation of church and state, regulated Capitalism, and civil rights for all, not necessarily in that order but all at the same time.

Posted by: ofladrt on April 22, 2011 at 12:17 PM | PERMALINK

I no longer support the Democratic Party, but I will support the Labor Party, or the Labor wing of the Democratic Party. I will support only candidates who favor strong unions, card check, liveable minimum wage, progressive taxation, single payer health care, separation of church and state, regulated Capitalism, and civil rights for all, not necessarily in that order but all at the same time.

Posted by: ofladrt on April 22, 2011 at 12:18 PM | PERMALINK

What's to get angry about? Politifact says there is no plan to eliminate Medicare. Case closed. So get off my lawn, you dirty hippy!

Posted by: Another Steve on April 22, 2011 at 12:50 PM | PERMALINK

I made a mistake in the name of the film (above)

It's Charlie Wilson's War, not Charlie King's.

Sorry.

Posted by: rrk1 on April 22, 2011 at 1:11 PM | PERMALINK

Rats! One day too late with this story, My congress critter Leonard Lance was in my town yesterday! I would have loved to ask him a few questions about why I would not get Medicare under Mr. Ryan's budget when I have been paying into it for over 25 years.

Posted by: joyzeeboy on April 22, 2011 at 1:24 PM | PERMALINK

Dave Weigel is trying to draw an equivalence between actual constituents standing up in town halls and questioning their representatives with a national corporate funded movement bussing in people with instructions on how to yell and shut down meetings, advertised on a national cable news channel.

Posted by: Sam on April 22, 2011 at 2:01 PM | PERMALINK

Benen: "After the summer of 2009, Republicans returned to Capitol Hill feeling emboldened, and Democrats felt shell-shocked. It didn't derail health care reform, but it left Dems in an almost permanent state of defensiveness and encouraged timidity."

I'm not so sure that's the case. I recall reading that despite the ferocity of many of the town halls, just about all of those in Congress came back to DC ready to vote the way the were going to vote prior to that summer. So even though the supposed outrage got a lot of coverage, it's very debatable whether may votes were changed.

As for the charge of "an almost permanent state of defensiveness," well, that's just about always been the case for Democrats, hasn't it?

I don't know if similar protests and demonstrations against Republicans would be similarly effective (or ineffective). I just doubt that the summer of 2009 is a good example.

Posted by: dsimon on April 22, 2011 at 4:26 PM | PERMALINK

Seems to me we got boots on the ground toot sweet when Bush tried to privatize Social Security in 2005. Why hasn't that been repeated? Probably because there's no chance Obama would sign the bill, so the threat of this thing actually happening is far less urgent.

Posted by: kth on April 23, 2011 at 3:41 PM | PERMALINK

the trajectory in Washington will remain the same

until January 2013, that is.
No protests needed. Just the senior voting bloc doing its thing after it sinks in that they have targets painted on their back by Ryan and friends.

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