I have a rule of thumb in politics that if one side is doing a lot of whining, it probably means they’re losing. This was true, for example, when liberals were on an electoral losing streak and carped that Republicans were simply meaner people and better at Rovian/swift boat tactics; or when conservatives blamed the media for the fate of the McCain-Palin ticket. Liberals complained about special interests destroying health care legislation in 1993/94, while conservatives were forced to lament the dishonest demagoguery being used by the left to turn the public against Social Security reform in 2005. As I wrote yesterday, Democratic lawmakers have been at the receiving end of a public backlash against their health care proposals, and now they’ve been working with their liberal allies to discredit protesters by painting them as tools of insurers and the Republican Party. Today, a blogger for liberal activist group Campaign for America’s Future equated opponents of liberal health care policies with Holocaust deniers, and the Democratic National Committee jumped into the fray today with a statement claiming that, “The Republicans and their allied groups – desperate after losing two consecutive elections and every major policy fight on Capitol Hill – are inciting angry mobs of a small number of rabid right wing extremists funded by K Street Lobbyists to disrupt thoughtful discussions about the future of health care in America taking place in Congressional Districts across the country.”
This is silly. We can argue about how many of the anti-government health care protesters were encouraged to attend townhall meetings by larger groups and how many decided to organize at the local level. But either way, it doesn’t really matter, because the whole reason activist groups exist is to encourage citizens who agree with them to get more involved. This is no different from what unions, liberal activist groups, the DNC, or Obama’s own Organizing for America are trying to do. During last summer’s Democratic National Convention, I attended a number of events in which self-described progressives argued that it was up to them to make sure that once elected, they forced Obama to govern as a liberal, just as past movements had pressured initially reluctant FDR and LBJ to create new social programs. And after Obama won the presidency on the strength of his organization, we heard lots about how he would harness his impressive grassroots apparatus to build public support for his policies.
If liberal organizations were succeeding in the current health care debate, they’d simply have larger numbers of people in support of their policies at all of the townhall meetings, allowing them to drown out the “small number of rabid right wing extremists.” Instead, the meetings are being swamped by opponents of their proposals. Coordinated or not, the attendees of the meetings are real people with real concerns about what is being discussed in Washington. The fact that liberals are reduced to whining thus suggests they’re losing the organizing war, and that they know it. With that said, it’s important that conservatives not get too cocky. Losing is not the same as having lost.
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