Published August 03, 2009
A leading House Democrat has been following me around for days. OK, not literally - but his words have stuck in my head and I can't shake them loose.
Last week, just before leaving on a month-long recess, Rep. Van Hollen (D-MD) declared, with much indignation and more than a twinge of bitterness, that they would not let the health care reform debate be "swiftboated."
That makes for a nice sound bite that appeals to the party's left wing but irritates most of America. And therein lies the Democrats' problem with getting more people to back their health care effort. When questioned on the merits of their proposal, they fall back on what makes them most comfortable-- appealing to the far left of their party. But this comes at the expense of everyone else -- they have consistently ignored the legitimate questions of the vast majority of the population, preferring to duck the tough questions and instead to make others the bad guy.
Now that they control every office in Washington, the burden is theirs to inspire and lead on major reforms they want to pass. And yet they seem to get so offended when someone wants to know how the legislation will affect them and their families.
There are some basic questions they need to answer if they're to get support: People want to know how the bill will change their own health care coverage, how much it is really going to cost, and what the benefits will be for them.
No one expects the Democrats to have a crystal ball, but they do expect them to have some basic answers. With something as big as changing a system that makes up 18 percent of our economy, it's hard to be precise-- because no one really knows exactly how it will unfold.
The most concrete answers, unfortunately for the Democrats, have come from the Congressional Budget Office. The CBO warns that the House bill will cost over $1 trillion dollars for the first ten years, that it will only cover a fraction of the uninsured, and that taxes are likely to be raised across the board.
Those bombshells sounded an alarm across the country. Instead of being comforted, Americans became uneasy. They started showing up in droves at town hall meetings, calling their Congressman, paying more attention to the debate, and raising more questions.
Instead of trying to answer the questions on the merits, many Democrats lashed out at anyone who dared suggest the proposal wasn't ready for prime time. They started blaming others for their predicament.
At first they blamed the Republicans as a party for being against reform, but the facts don't support their arguments. Especially because it was many concerned Democrats who were raising a ruckus, too. They had to find a new villain.
They pointed fingers at conservative talk radio show hosts and said they were scaring people, but the Democrats can't convincingly answer any of the questions they raise. That's not the hosts fault -- they aren't the ones charged with providing the answers.
Incredibly this past week, the Democrats found a new entity to blame -- the mainstream media. They said that it was journalists that created a "false deadline" of passing a bill by August. But the tapes of themselves pushing for August results embarrassed them and so that went nowhere either.
Now it seems they've settled on targeting the insurance companies-- probably not a bad idea politically, but it will be interesting to see if the insurance companies continue to let themselves be vilified. I'd love to be a fly on the wall the next time Pelosi and Reid place fundraising calls to the insurance company executives. I'll bet the companies won't stand up for themselves very much thinking that this is the price they have to pay to stay in business on Capitol Hill.
After a month of incessant finger pointing, there is one thing everyone agrees on. This topic will dominate in the districts during August. Tons of money will be spent-- ironically, it could help stimulate the economy more so than any not-so-shovel ready transportation projects or the cash for clunkers bill.
The responsibility lies with the Democrats to use this time to make their case from health care reform on the merits. I suspect they won't be able to do that-- and I wonder who'll be their next villain. They're running out of targets and ultimately will have no one to blame but themselves when the bill fails.