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A Healthy Dose of Populism

Gene Lyons says Democrats can win the health care debate if they start appealing to townhallers instead of making fun of them. Some aren't convinced.

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For some time now, conservatives have argued that the angry Americans at health care townhalls aren't racist or crazy, but afraid. For the most part, the idea has been ignored or brushed to the side by voices on the left, who say the wild-eyed citizens are not deserving of respect. Now, though, Gene Lyons says that kind of elitist thinking could cost Democrats the health care debate. Townhallers, he argues, really are afraid. Sure, he says, those fears are whipped up by a "lavishly funded right-wing noise machine," but the fears are genuine, and according to Lyons, mocking them isn't the way to deal with them. Instead of calling people "stupid racists," Lyons says Democrats should wage "a strong counter-narrative informing voters that they've been had: conned, tricked and manipulated by, yes, New York, Washington and Hollywood 'media elites' who lie for money." In other words, Lyons wants the Democrats to use populism to sell health care reform. Can that really work? Some are skeptical.

  • It Could Work, but Playing on Fears Is a Tricky Gamesays Chris Good at The Atlantic. "Democrats seem to enjoy their moral authority. Whether following Lyons's advice would remove the authority depends on how it gets followed."
  • Barney Frank Was Right, writes James Joyner at Outside the Beltway. "Some people are simply beyond reasoning with."
  • Don't Pander to Racists, says Amanda Marcotte at "Let's get past the idea that the most important Americans are the paranoid right wingers. The sooner we get to marginalizing them, the better off we'll be."
  • A Racist by Any Other Name Is Just as Dangerous, writes Ron Beasley at Newshoggers. Beasley says the townhallers are "well armed and angry. We ignore them and their motivations at great risk."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.