Are Democrats In For An August Slaughter?


Democrats know the rulebook. The tactics being used against them by Republican and conservative groups were perfected by the party when it set out to defeat President Bush's Social Security privatization proposals. They also know that it's easier to gin up noise against a major legislative initiative than it is to sell an initiative that isn't fully formed yet.

They know the rulebook. As a Democratic strategist said to me: "I think as Dems we learned a lot of lessons from beating Bush on privatization -- we know and perfected all the tricks and tactics so we know what to expect from the tea baggers, the insurance companies and other opponents."

Obama's side ostensibly has the best ground game in the history of progressive politics and advocacy. And opponents of the policy have a moving target because there are four or five possible bills. But there is reason to think that, when the BDAs from town hall meetings members hold with constituents are finished, and when all the calls to members' offices are tallied, Democrats will find that opposition to health care reform has not abated.  

Where Democrats have President Obama, principles, and a new argument about consumer protections, Republicans have an enthusiastic, self-contained base that is ready to work to defeat Obama's signature initiative. (On some level, this isn't _really_ about health care: it's about anxiety and anger at government, and at the Obama administration.) Democratic members are left to sell a series of principles that are popular, but which have been obscured by the focus on Washington sausage making.

The press will be complicit in telling the story, as the louder voices at town hall meetings will ultimately get more coverage. As the Democratic National Committee has learned, it's not easy to engineer a massive national congressional switchboard campaign unless there is a defined target. That's one reason why the Democrats and the White House are trying to bait the insurance companies.

The president, the vice president and the Cabinet will be out in force to make arguments, some of them good arguments, in favor of the need for health insurance reform. The goal of the opposition  -- of Freedom Works and Americans for Prosperity -- isn't to change minds; their activists know what they believe already: it's to make noise. Making noise scares members of Congress. And Democrats are vulnerable to panics.

That said, if the only people who show up at the constituent meetings are angry, talking-point-spewing ideological opponents of the president, then maybe the maybe the effect of the meetings will attenuate

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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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