Today the Obama White House played a card from the Clinton deck, characterizing the massive resistance expressed at congressional townhall meetings across the country as the work of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy. Reader Martin Karo attended one such townhall this past Sunday in Morrisville, Pennsylvania, at which Rep. Patrick Murphy was savaged by a crowd of well over a hundred citizens, even openly jeered when he claimed he had read the thousand-page health care bill just as he reads every bill.
How did Karo find out about the townhall? He was the recipient of a robocall the day before, informing him about the meeting and inviting his attendance. Thinking Murphy’s database includes mostly Democrats, he is of the view that anyone who ascribes the crowd’s hostility to the work of the VRCW is delusional. Karo reports:
This past Sunday afternoon I attended a “citizen’s meeting” in the neighboring town (Morrisville) with my alleged Blue Dog Congressman, Patrick Murphy. I think they were expecting 20 or 30 people. More than a hundred showed up, and it’s fair to say Murphy ran into a buzz saw. I would say the “anti” forces outnumbered the “plan-friendly” voters ten to one. The crowd was by and large older; I was one of the younger people there, but I expect the youngest person was Murphy himself. The crowd was orderly (at least at first), respectfully dressed, and as I was to find out, very well informed as to what was going on.
At first, Murphy said he would speak to people individually, in the order they signed up on a sign-in sheet. You would have thought this would make everyone feel special, but it just made the crowd restive and angry. One silver-haired tall thin fellow in a red polo shirt commanded the room’s attention by starting to speak himself, in a loud voice, saying how disappointed he was in the format and the Congressman, that all the people in the room had questions about health care and they deserved to hear what the congressman had to say and the congressman needed to hear what they had to say.
An argument broke out between him and an obviously neurotic middle-aged woman (she had her head bent down most of the time and kept her arms wrapped tightly around herself) who said she did not want to talk about health care and besides the president’s plan was good for “the people”. A number of people retorted immediately, “What people?” “Not me!” “It’s a disaster!”
Murphy then stepped forward and said he would take questions on the health bill. He said he was a veteran (this drew applause) and he wanted what was best for the country. He said he was troubled by several aspects of the plan, but they were working to make it better, so that it would be affordable and would cover all the 47 million uninsured.
He claimed he had just read the bill, and wasn’t too familiar with it. But he then launched into describing aspects of the plan, without talking about what he would change. He had the misfortune to mention the words “single payer” and someone near me bellowed “we shouldn’t even be talking about single payer!”
One man spoke up and said he was retired and had had a quadruple bypass last year and also some stomach surgery, and asked whether he would be alive today under the government plan. Murphy said in a careful lawyerly answer that the man “would receive appropriate medical care” at which point someone retorted “that means you’d be dead!” and someone else called out “how do you know” (clearly to Murphy’s answer).
Murphy said he knows because he’d read the bill. He went on to say “I read every bill I vote on.” At that point jeering commenced, someone barked “that’s not true!” (ok, that was me), and someone else piped up that even Murphy’s office had said he had not read the stimulus bill or else he would not have voted for the bonuses for the executives.
Murphy tried to change the subject by citing statistics and launching into an explanation of how the bill was necessary due to soaring medical costs, at which someone else snorted “and you think the GOVERNMENT could fix that?” and a hefty fellow interjected “let the free market take care of that! We don’t need socialist medicine!”
Murphy responded that he didn’t want to take away anyone’s health care, and his goal was seeking “cost savings” by eliminating “waste and fraud.” He did riff on the evil greedy insurance companies and doctors committing fraud. The crowd seemed unconvinced. I spoke up and said waste and fraud had been government problems since Abraham Lincoln’s day, the government had never been able to eliminate it, and in any event the amount of waste and fraud could not possibly amount to more than five percent of health care’s costs even by the government’s own figures, so how could Murphy claim that better controls would pay for anything?
Murphy reiterated that there was a lot of waste and fraud but they were looking at other revenue enhancements, like taxing “gold plated” plans. I snapped back “the health insurance industry after-tax profits amount to 3 percent of revenue. Why do you keep blaming them?” At which point the neurotic lady started shouting at me that we all were mean and hostile and the congressman was doing a great job and we should just let him help us because that’s what he wanted to do.
Someone at the back of the room called out “this won’t help us! Leave our health care alone!” Murphy asked everyone to cool down and “be respectful, this is America,” and tried to interject that they were not going to take away anyone’s health insurance, but that dog was clearly not hunting.
The inevitable question was asked, whether Murphy would subject his own family to the plan; Murphy equivocated for a while, saying that Congress already had a health plan and the president had said that everyone could keep his or her health care, but when the crowd started murmuring loudly to that Murphy said he would put his family into the government health care plan.
I had had about all the dissembling I could take for one day, so I left. Besides, Murphy looked like he was in plenty enough trouble as it was.
There were four interesting things about the meeting. One, there is obvious interest and hostility stirred up by the plan. The old folks are mad. This isn’t going away. Two, Murphy felt the need to go rather quickly to mention his military service, which brought applause from the crowd. But you know what they say about patriotism and scoundrels.
Three, perhaps most interesting, Murphy never mentioned Obama by name and barely referred to the president at all. Clearly, he knows the big O man is not popular and is trying to sell the plan while not embracing the man. Four, the popular thing would have been to say “this bill is unacceptable as is and I will work hard to change it,” but that’s not what he said. He is indeed trying to sell the plan.
That tells me that Nancy et al. have been twisting arms hard. It doesn’t mean they will succeed – I’m sure Murphy cares deeply about being re-elected, and the afternoon’s meeting could not have made him feel good about his prospects if he continues on this path – but it shows more pressure on the “Blue Dogs” is very necessary.