Recycling is so popular that even our congressmen, unaccustomed as they are to practicing what they preach, do it. They’re reaching back into the dark past to recycle contempt. Never waste a crisis, even if you have to manufacture the crisis.
Democrats from the cosseted life in the House and Senate, accustomed to getting the deference at home so often denied in Washington, are suddenly having to deal with inconvenient old folks at home. President Obama insists that the War on Terror is over, ended by his ultimate weapon, the Apology Bomb. But to listen to delicate congressmen whose feelings are hurt, al Qaeda has merely moved terror operations to their congressional districts.
Angry lynch mobs (to hear House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her sidekick Steny Hoyer tell it) of elderly gents on walking sticks and little blue-haired ladies in their 80s have descended on congressmen at town meetings across the country - in California, Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee, Missouri, Maryland, Ohio, Georgia and other places. They’re taking out their anger and frustration at the Obama health care “reform” in the robust American way, but Mrs. Pelosi professes to see “reform” adrift on a turbulent sea of Nazi swastikas. Rep. Brian Baird of Washington sees a blur of Brown Shirts. Sen. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas calls the dissenters “un-American.” She later remembered where she was and said she didn’t mean to call them that. Her contempt for Arkansas folks just popped out. In Georgia, Rep. David Scott tried to calm a town meeting with a plea to “calm down and take a deep breath,” then took a deep breath and scolded everyone with a hysterical screed about the “hijacking” of his meeting.
Rep. Steve Cohen treated his Memphis constituents with similar contempt: “Take two aspirin and come back in the morning.” Rep. Russ Carnahan told livid St. Louis constituents, naive yokels in his view, that they had been “mobilized [by] special interests in Washington.”
The frightened Democratic reaction to robust debate - “the conversation” that “progressives” are so eager to have with those who disagree with them - recycles the insults and epithets last heard in confrontations over civil rights and the war in Vietnam. The protests are “organized,” the work of “outside agitators.” Martin Luther King, by Democratic reckoning, was an outside agitator. The marches against the Vietnam war were marvels of organization, true, but … umm, well … that was different. Mr. Obama should recognize outside agitation when he sees it, given his career in outside agitation in Chicago. He was taught by Saul Alinsky, “the father of American radicalism,” that the left-wing strategy for achieving an unpopular goal is to “pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.”
We’re almost there. The Democrats are trying to impose rationed government health care (the target) quickly, before the public wakes up from entertaining distractions (the freeze), making villains of all who oppose (personalizing it) and creating a chaotic controversy (polarizing it) that can be effectively exploited. Mr. Obama once taught Saul Alinsky workshops in Chicago, so he was ready when he thought he heard opportunity knocking.
But the president and his congressional accomplices forgot that timing is everything. The public-opinion polls show that bare majorities think there’s a health care crisis, but bigger majorities are satisfied with their own coverage. The majority can smell government medicine and the confiscatory taxes on the way. The president further miscalculated when he agreed to the insertion of a scheme, hidden in the thousand pages of the House legislation, to “offer” counseling to the aged about how they want to die. Nothing there about the “how” and “when.” That comes later.
When he confronts mortality, a man is suspicious of boodlers with smooth tongues. Roger Fakes, 70, a retired businessman, showed up at the Memphis “town hall” in neither Brown Shirt nor swastika (he’s actually a Presbyterian elder). His congressman’s insistence that Obamacare would not disturb his private insurance moved him to his feet with polite but pointed questions and observations: “There are some of us old gray-haired folks who don’t want the government involved in any of our business.” And not just the gray-haired folks. Congressmen are learning the hard way they sometimes have to listen, like it or not.
c Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.