The scene was similar though in an opposite way on April 15th. That's when nearly 100 cities hosted nearly 1 million people to protest the policies of the government and President Obama specifically. By then, the protesters had built up a plethora of passion against the stimulus, cap and trade, and the still yet to be unveiled health care plan. Just as millions celebrated with passion on November 4th, 2008 the election of President Obama, so too did millions passionately protest the POLICIES of President Obama (along with much of the government) on April 15th, 2009.
One of the peculiarities of President Obama has always been that there is a lot more passionate followers of the man himself than of his policies. In fact, his policies are rather stale tax and spend policies reminiscent of Jimmy Carter and LBJ. There was always a gap between the passion for the man himself and the policies he supported. Either people were going to get more passionate about big government liberalism or they were going to get less passionate about President Obama. So far, it's the latter. This has all sorts of consequences. The Nation sums up the problem.
Since Obama took office, there have been very few public expressions of discontent. We've heard very little about everyday Americans--workers facing layoffs and the loss of health insurance, jobless Americans exhausting their unemployment insurance, renters facing eviction, homeowners facing foreclosures, farmers losing their farms, high school students facing cuts in school programs and college students facing rising tuition--mobilizing to demand immediate action to end their hardship and suffering.
During the Obama era so far, union, community, environmental and other liberal activists have carefully calibrated their efforts on behalf of legislation. They've engaged in lots of lobbying and meetings with members of Congress. E-mails to politicians have been fast and furious. Unions and other groups are purchasing TV and radio ads to push centrist Democrats to support healthcare reform. There are occasional rallies and public forums to show support for the president's agenda. Through Organizing for America, the lobby group created to sustain the momentum generated by millions of campaign volunteers, Obama has encouraged liberal bloggers and supporters to rally support for White House initiatives. This week, in response to the right-wing mob attacks on Democratic legislators, Obama wrote to the 13 million people on his OFA e-mail list and asked them to commit to attend at least one event this month to show support for his healthcare plan.
These polite activities are necessary, but they don't create a sense of urgency or crisis. With some exceptions, they don't generate TV stories and newspaper headlines. They don't put pressure on Congressional fence-sitters to fear a groundswell of negative publicity or a threat to their re-election chances. They are not sufficient to balance the influence of corporate campaign contributions. As a result, many of Obama's initiatives face a stalemate.
Even most of President Obama's most strident defenders often cite the need for "health care reform", "energy reform", and "education" reform. They rarely cite his own plans as the needed reform. Here's how Tom Friedman "supported" cap and trade.
There is much in the House cap-and-trade energy bill that just passed that I absolutely hate. It is too weak in key areas and way too complicated in others. A simple, straightforward carbon tax would have made much more sense than this Rube Goldberg contraption. It is pathetic that we couldn’t do better. It is appalling that so much had to be given away to polluters. It stinks. It’s a mess. I detest it.
Keep in mind that Friedman went on to say that the bill should pass. That's a supporter of a piece of Obama legislation.
So, we have the rowdy town hall debates in which opponents aren't only opposing them passionately. Democrats are stunned that so many people are not only displaying their disagreement but passionately displaying their disgust. They must be plants, "astro turfers", and organized by powerful forces. The reality is that the protestors are simply the latest manifestation of the phenomenon of the Obama presidency. The President is supported much more passionately than his policies. His policies, however, are opposed with the same kind of passion that I witnessed on election night.
The Nation demands a call to arms. It demands that liberals organize and protest in favor of Obama's health care policy. The Nation misses the point. If a policy is supported passionately, organization takes care of itself. By the same token, if a policy is opposed passionately, organization similarly takes care of itself. The problem for the Obama administration is that there is simply no passionate support for any of his policies. Worse yet, there's plenty of passionate opposition to all his policies. There's simply no way to pass any legislation with this dynamic. That's what is being played out in the town hall events and this won't be the last time that the enthusiasm gap surfaces.