Inside the Heads of Obama’s Health Care Town-Hall Rowdies


In the reports from the health care town halls that some frightened politicians have been holding with their constituents (“Raucous Crowd Greets Cardin at Health-Care Town Hall,” “Crowd Heckles, Shouts, Lobs Insults at Farr’s Health-Care Town Hall,” “Violence Breaks Out at Democratic Town Halls,” etc.), it’s the loud voices that have gotten most of the attention. But it’s the thought behind them that counts.

No one expected a trillion-dollar plan to effectively nationalize a giant industry—one that sees you naked, no less—to get by without strong objections. Some people may suspect the government is too big and cumbersome to do health care right. Others may oppose Obamacare because the president of the United States is a Marxist.

Ana Puig, a charming, well-spoken wife and mother of four in Philadelphia who emigrated from Brazil 22 years ago, clarifies: “I say Obama is a 21st-century Marxist. The word ‘Communism’ is no longer really allowed these days. When I started out, even the conservatives got scared off when somebody used the word ‘Communism.’ So I just use this—but it’s the same thing.”

Puig got some media face time earlier this month, when she appeared in the now-famously-wild Arlen Specter Town Hall videos. She was not bellowing and bugging her eyes like the owl-faced man who told the Pennsylvania senator that God would judge him and his “damn cronies.” Instead, Puig rather temperately asked Specter and HHS Secretary Sebelius, “Why is it we’re turning the United States, that I’ve learned to love so much in the past 22 years, into a land of entitlement?”

Protesters howled in response and booed Specter as if he were a cartoon villain when he pointed out that Medicare and Social Security were entitlement programs, too. But Puig wasn’t one of those people. She kept her cool.

Afterward, she made the talk circuit: the Fox shows of Neil Cavuto and David Asman, and Anderson Cooper’s on CNN. She didn’t say on these shows, as she said to the Voice, that Barack Obama is a Marxist. Nor did she say, as she said to us, that the way Obama is trying to put over health care reform is “the same thing” Hugo Chávez did to take over Venezuela—”infiltration of the education system, political correctness, class warfare ideology, voter fraud, brainwashing through the mainstream media.”

She did talk about how she thought the government was suppressing the anti-reform movement, though. On CNN, for example, she said, “I feel like my constitutional rights are being taken away from me right before my eyes. I don’t like the direction that we’re going. They’re taking away our freedom of speech. And the silent majority is finally fed up with it.”

How many Obamacare protesters think Obama is a Communist? That’s hard to say, because it’s rare that anyone asks them that.

On the Web, the message that Obama is pushing an alien ideology—communist, socialist, fascist, take your pick—is so common as to be taken for granted. Former Hollywood player Pat Dollard writes, “Conservative Democrats Rebel Against Communist Health Care Bill”; Dr. Dave Janda warns that the plan is fascist.

But when protesters are asked why they’re protesting, they usually express much milder sentiments—”They should be open and honest instead of ramming it through”; “It’s just being rammed down our throat,” as an Associated Press dispatch put it, before intoning, “A unifying emotion is distrust of the government and federal intrusion into individual liberties or personal choices.” This goes down well with their fellow citizens: A USA Today/Gallup poll indicates that 53 percent of Americans who have been “following very closely” such coverage of the town halls are now “more sympathetic to the protesters’ views.”

It could be that these folks haven’t thought any more deeply about it than their comments reveal. Maybe AP didn’t talk to them long enough to find out what’s really driving them. Or maybe message discipline has something to do with it: When the anti-Obama “tea party” movement held its first New York event back in February, many people stepped up to the bullhorn to denounce the socialism, Shariah law, and Hitlerism of the Obama administration. At the next, much larger, New York event, the few citizen-speakers who made it to the stage were carefully guided by the organizers; the more professional speakers who dominated put the ix-nay on the ocialism-say, and focused on “entrepreneurship,” “out-of-control” spending, and the like.

Similarly, on TV shows about the town hall protests, you’ll often see clips of a bunch of people yelling, and then a well-dressed talking head explaining what their yelling means. The explanation usually doesn’t involve Stalin or Hitler.

You might get a clearer sense of what the anti-Obamacare message is about from the leader-in-exile of the conservative movement, Sarah Palin, than from its ground forces.

On August 7, Palin said on her Facebook page (!) that “the America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s ‘death panel’ so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their ‘level of productivity in society,’ whether they are worthy of health care.” (Asked about this subject, Ana Puig says, “No comment.”)

A lot of observers, including softcore conservatives like David Frum, found Palin’s argument absurd. But Newt Gingrich went on TV to say he was worried about it, too (“There are clearly people in American who believe in establishing euthanasia, including selective standards”). The American Spectator joined in (“Physicians will be paid more if they follow the guidelines established by the yet-to-be-named research group. . . . More likely, the doctor will go with the flow and accept the higher level of payment for being obedient”).

An April interview, in which Obama discussed program costs and the use of an “independent group that can give you guidance” on end-of-life issues, was dug up and presented as evidence that Obama was at least thinking about denying life-saving care to the old and in-the-way. “Whether or not the IMAC [Independent Medicare Advisory Council] would actually do this,” said Slate’s Mickey Kaus, “. . . Obama thought it would do it.”

And so, on talk shows and in the blogosphere, people seriously discussed whether the President of the United States was planning to eliminate the aged and infirm for the good of the State.

Now some Senate Democrats have said the hell with it and are trying to throw that part of the plan away. (One page down, 1,200 to go!) But if the President had to be restrained from killing the infirm to save money, what other evils might be lurking in his bill?

You see the problem: If Obama is what conservatives portray him to be—not merely a Marxist, fascist, socialist, or whatever, but also a brutal euthanasiast—then there isn’t much in the way of health care policy with which we could trust him.

If health care reform collapses, it won’t be because it was argued down, or even because it was shouted down, but because the decades-old idea that the United States government is inherently untrustworthy has more life in it than many of us knew.