Ok, I feel a bit dirty even writing that post title. Like I’m getting all Slate-tastic, New Republic, Mickey Kaus, Mark Halperin-esque contrarian anti-anti-anti-liberal on you all. But I think it’s true. In recent days, you must have noticed some of this. Congressmen and Senators have been called racial epithets, spit on, have had bricks thrown through windows, received violent calls, had white powder sent to their office, and have had their brother’s gas lines cut. I won’t link to all those stories, but good Lord, just go to memeorandum during any of the past few days and check it out yourself.
Now, to be clear, violence is bad and it is appropriate for these incidents to be reported to the media. And it is appropriate for the media to file stories about them. However, I think a lot of Democrats are mistaken if they think highlighting these stories will benefit them politically. It might fire up the base, and it also makes for fun blog posts and NYT columns about the extreme nature of the Republican party and its base.
But recall the last time something like this happened? It was last summer, when the health care debate was starting to ramp up. Tea partiers showed up in full force to town hall meetings and screamed about death panels, and the response of the liberal commentariat to write blog posts and columns much like the ones you see now. But if you think, as I do, that the goal of these efforts should be to discredit the opposition and make your policies more popular, then these efforts failed. Indeed, it was during the summer that Obama’s favorables overall and on health care started to fall.
And I think the reason for this is that most of these writers always overestimate the degree to which the public follows politics. If someone loosely turns in, and sees that a health care bill has frothing, virulent opposition, they’re going to assume there must be something wrong with the bill. And those people aren’t going to go read Ezra Klein to find out that their impression is mistaken.
So what to do, then? Making the bill more popular will depend not at all on highlighting the insanity of the opposition but will depend entirely on selling to the public exactly what benefits they now have because of the new law. Based on Obama’s appearances since signing the bill into law, he appears to understand that. Only when they understand and see and experience those benefits will the law truly be locked in as an important part of the social contract.