A USA Today/Gallup poll found 34 percent of respondents who are following news accounts of town hall meetings on healthcare reform were more sympathetic to the protestors’ viewpoints, while 21 percent said the protests had made them less sympathetic.
Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn is surprised the protests haven’t led to a backlash — “Surely the public would recoil at the demonstrators’ preference for confrontation over dialogue. Their wild overstatements and paranoia. Their signs featuring President Barack Obama with a Hitler-style mustache and other vile attempts to compare increasing government’s role in providing health care to the Nazi Holocaust.”
Northwestern University sociologist Aldon Morris explains that ultimately it comes down to whether the protest itself “resonates with the uncertainties and fears that already exist in society” — and this trumps the outrageous and offensive tactics. Zorn lays out the following conditions that protesters have seized upon so successfully:
Uncertainty. There is as yet no one plan for proponents to defend, so every idea remains an attack target.
Anxiety. The fear that reform, whatever it turns out to entail, will make things worse for the 78 percent of Americans who have coverage and are at least somewhat satisfied with it, according to a recent Time poll. And, of course, that it will sink our nation even deeper into debt during a period of economic crisis.
Apathy. Backers of reform have been comparatively lackluster in their advocacy, in part because they have nothing specific to advocate for. But if, as other recent polls suggest, a majority of Americans believe our health-care system needs a major overhaul, you’d never know it judging by the passion gap between the two sides.
Combine that with an exploitation of racial and ideological fears and economic anxiety, and you get the toxic mix that we see every day on the news. An African-American president as Hitler? Go figure. But as Republicans appear unwilling to calm the fire — or contribute substantive reform suggestions — Democrats are realizing they may have to pursue a health care bill on their own.
Meanwhile, Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) is making headlines for chiding a woman holding a poster with an image of Obama as Hitler. At a town hall meeting last night in Massachussetts, Frank gave up trying to reason with the unreasonable: