Sunday, August 9, 2009

Town Hall 1

I'm going to talk a bit about the stuff going on at town hall meetings this last week. This is an introduction, and a recap of what I said last week. First, what's happening at town hall meetings is very unlikely to have much to do with the fate of the health care bill, or the Obama presidency; it may, depending on who wins the short-term spin, have a mild and temporary effect on Washington conventional wisdom, and that's about it. In think Ambinder is very much on the right track here:
[T]hey are tantalizingly close to a compromise: a majority on the House Energy and Commerce Committee have passed a modified "public plan" that reimburses doctors at Medicare rates plus five percent, doesn't require participation, and puts off the reimbursement mechanism for hospitals until later. From a 30,000 foot perspective, if the White House can contain the panic that members will inevitably feel (and maybe a visit from the president to select cities can help) then its August recess will have been productive (my emphasis).
Which is about what I was saying. From here, the battle is between one side trying to convince Members of Congress that what they are seeing is representative of something really scary (that is, career-threatening), and the other side trying to convince Members that it's just a handful of birthers and kooks. As far as that's concerned, my sense of the play of this is that the Tea Party crowd overplayed their hand badly, and that the month is going very well for Obama, the Democrats, and health care reform, but that's speculation, not fact. We'll see.

At any rate, what I want to think about now isn't the fate of health care, but what all of this means for democracy. We're hearing lots of people who think that (as Publius puts it):
This misinformation campaign poses a deep and fundamental challenge to our country. I mean, the whole idea behind the marketplace of ideas is that it will inform and educate the public. To disseminate lies (and to do it effectively) challenges our democracy in a very fundamental way.
And then, on the other hand, we have Matt Cooper, who says that this kind of fuss-and-bother is exactly what democracy is all about.

So: is the process unfolding this month a problem? For whom? How? That's what I'm going to explore for a while. But first, a quick digression, because I need to detour into horse racing.

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