A special comment from me.
I've gotten some heat from a few progressive websites about a CBS Evening News piece on the angry weekend protests at constituent meetings in Pennsylvania, Texas and elsewhere. Speaking for myself here, and not for CBS, I think the piece is exactly on point. Correspondent Wyatt Andrews noted that conservative websites had organized some of the crowds, but also that the anger reflected in some of the barbed questioning reflects a reality: there is anxiety in the nation about health care reform.
A majority of the public supports reform in principle and, broadly, in practice, but they are also worried about more government control, about the costs of reform, and whether they'll see any benefit. These aren't dumb or unfounded worries. It's not surprising that the meetings tend to attract those who oppose reform, and these formats generically attract louder, less shy voices. No doubt: some of the loudest voices were prompted to attend the rallies because they hate Obama and want him to fail and because they were asked to do so by conservative groups.
That doesn't make the protests illegitimate -- and it doesn't make the protesters any less legitimate either. In the tech age, grassroots, grasstops, organic and spontaneous are concepts that no longer describe discrete realities. The goal of interest groups -- liberal and conservative -- is to reflect, simplify and magnify complex policy messages. Pointing out that FreedomWorks is funded in part -- by -- gasp -- a stakeholder in the debate -- does not in and of itself say anything about whether anxiety exists. Who pays for what and who influences whom is relevant, but the short CBS story was about the reality of anxiety -- regardless of whether FreedomWorks ever existed, the White House still wanted a bill by August. Pointing out that the leader of FreedomWorks was trained by Lee Atwater is probably a compliment.
The fact is that the Democrats and the White House are not yet winning the battle over health care on their own terms. The Republicans have succeeded in twinning the Democratic "side" to the ugly process of Washington sausage-making. The White House messaging has been a bit inconsistent. And Democrats -- as Taylor Marsh pointed out to me -- "looked positively stumped" when it comes to figuring out a message on their own.
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Marc Ambinder is a senior fellow at the USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership and Policy.