Before the start of Saturday’s March on Washington, organizers said they expected between 50 and 100 thousand people to attend. As anyone looking at the photographs of the actual event can see, their prediction was way, way off.
By some media estimates, the crowd that turned out on the National Mall to protest Barack Obama’s agenda for America was larger than the one that showed up to see him inaugurated president. But even if it wasn’t, it was still sizeable enough to suggest the nation is already engaged in a more vigorous debate over the direction of the country than most commentators believed possible in the wake of the 2008 election.
The people who turned out came in groups on busses they had chartered on their own dime. They flew in from all over the country. One father and his college-age daughter drove in from southern Indiana -- it took them about ten hours – just to be part of the "mob" on the Mall. The 9.12 rally was a genuine expression of a very real political sentiment: that they’re not buying what Obama and the Democrats in Congress are selling. And not just on health care.
*There were coal miners and their families who say their jobs will go up in smoke if the “cap-and-trade” energy tax makes it through Congress.
*There were folks whose livelihoods have already been taken from them, like the auto dealer whose franchise agreement Washington voided as part of the government’s restructuring of Chrysler and General Motors.
*There were people carrying signs that showed they were worried about the corruption and potential for corruption on Capitol Hill and in the executive branch, including the proliferation of constitutionally questionable and congressionally unaccountable policy-making “czars” inside the White House.
*And, tying it all together, there were concerns expressed by many about how the president and and the Congress are spending the people’s money at previously unheard of rates, the growing national debt and how, for the first time in history, its size is fast approaching the total U.S. gross domestic product or GDP.
It’s easy to dismiss the crowd as the product of “AstroTurf” lobbying -- the kind of activity national organizations stage to make it appear that an issue has captured more attention out in America’s heartland than it actually has. It would be easy -- and it would be wrong.
Nonetheless that appears to be exactly what President Obama and the Democrats in Congress seem ready to do. Rather than work to develop a truly bipartisan approach to the problems facing America, one where all parties have meaningful input, the president has adopted, at least as far as health care reform is concerned, the “my way or the highway” approach.
Pretending to seek the support of Republicans and promising to develop a bill that takes ideas from all corners, despite the fact that some of them violate Obama campaign promises, senior White House aides like David Axelrod and Rahm Emmanuel are telegraphing the administration’s willingness to jam major changes to the U.S. health care system down everyone’s throat on party lines using a parliamentary device known as reconciliation.
To Axelrod and Emmanuel and others of their kind, the bipartisan approach consists of pushing the Republicans in Congress toward the edge of a cliff until they agree to do what the White House wants. It may be interesting politics but it’s not the best way to make policy. They refuse to acknowledge, as the marchers made plain, that while America may indeed want some kind of health care reform and a host of other issues, they don’t want the reforms Obama and the Democrats are offering.
Peter Roff is a contributing editor to U.S. News & World Report. He is the former senior political writer for United Press International.