What does it look like when a party with solid majorities can barely pass a health care bill with broad, fanatical support through even one house of Congress? I got a glimpse this weekend, as Democratic members of the House of Representatives brought the H.R. 3962 victory lap to town hall meetings in their home districts. Broadly speaking supporters were disheartened and opponents were as charged up as ever.
"We have to do as much as we can to convince the American public that [the Affordable Health Care for America Act, which passed the House by a vote of 220 to 215 early this month] will be something that is good for them," Rep. Xavier Becerra told a small crowd of supporters in Los Angeles Saturday afternoon. "The health care reform act that passed in the House is a pretty good stab at trying to do right by the American people. It could have been better... But it's a step forward. It's far more than what we have. It will get us closer to the point where we can say that the American people will finally reach the 21st Century and have the kind of health care that not only they deserve, they've earned."
The group of about 50 supporters outside a downtown hospital rose to Becerra's lukewarm enthusiasm. Judging by the questioners, Becerra himself was to the right of the crowd. Much of the rally focused on assuaging supporters' objections to the so-called Stupak Amendment, which would prevent public health insurance from covering abortions.
The crowd also seemed unhappy about the final bill's lack of coverage for illegal immigrants. Panelists and audience members repeated the formula that failing to provide universal coverage of illegal immigrants costs taxpayers more, in the form of emergency care for far-gone cases that could have been treated more cheaply with preventive or earlier-stage care. (OT: Is there any evidence to support this formula? Emergency rooms are expensive to operate, but it still seems logical that a policy encouraging a group of people to stay away from hospitals and doctors until their health deteriorates would reduce the group's overall medical cost by reducing both range of care and life expectancy.)
"We have to understand, living here in Los Angeles, that the rest of the world and the rest of the country isn't like L.A.," Becerra said several times.
I was expecting the crowd around a leading Democratic congressman, with the goal of Welltopia in sight, to be pretty fired up. But the mood of the event was more wistful than anything. (And not General Zod-type no-more-worlds-to-conquer wistfulness, but a real sense of regret.)
The atmosphere was very different yesterday as Rep. Brad Sherman presided over a town hall circus at a Van Nuys high school. The auditorium-packing crowd was energized, but not all the energy was in favor of AHCAA. There seemed to be a 50-50 split between H.R. 3962 supporters and opponents, along with a heaping helping of birthers, truthers and resurgent ChemTrailers. Was there heckling? Were there boos? Did people get shoved? Yes, yes, and yes.
But Sherman showed why you can't spell Brad without R-A-D. Whether you're desperately seeking a copy of President Obama's long-form birth certificate or you're just a building demolition expert who wants the truth about the collapse of Building 7, the San Fernando Valley stalwart can engage you at a level that puts other politicians to shame.
The gentleman seen at left, a ChemTrailer doing some freelance birth certificate work, awakened the dormant tiger in Sherman. When he expounded on weather manipulation in China, Russia and Venezuela, Sherman responded with a surprisingly learned critique of snowmaking, algae-seeding and other frontier sciences.
But when this same questioner mentioned in passing that the president we know as Hawaii-born Barack Obama is actually some other person (I think it was Barry Rapaport from Flushing, but the audio isn't clear), Sherman launched into a full-steam stemwinder about children born to parents serving overseas. It was a great moment in post-meaning politics, with the crowd cheering and Sherman extemporizing about our service people and the audacity of those who would deny citizenship to our service people.
I have no idea what children born on military bases or in the Panama Canal zone have to do with the president's birth certificate (excuse me, his certificate of live birth). But by the time Sherman wrapped up I was ready to punch a birther in the mouth for the way they're disrespecting our men and women in uniform. Even more impressive was that Sherman pulled off the soliloquy with his ChemTrail interlocutor glaring uncomfortably at his left flank.
Did any of this bode well for the future of health care reform? I'd say it didn't. Like Becerra, Sherman did his best to get people pumped up for AHCAA, but his argument frequently came down to a case that we shouldn't worry because the bill passed out of the House was less radical than advertised, and that Franklin Roosevelt had done more to change the United States than President Obama has so far tried to do.
This being the land of the nuts and the fruits, it was hard to tell the Obamabots from the Wingnuts. The group seen here, for example, contained folks from both groups.
As was the case with Becerra, Sherman's statements were more moderate than his supporters seemed to want. It's hard to get people excited about Public Option Jr. when they're really in the mood for another Work Progress Administration and a revamped Civilian Conservation Corps.
Sherman and Becerra both made statements about how getting scorched by town hall opponents is part of what makes American democracy the first or second best democracy in the NAFTA region, and it was pleasing to see such engaged citizens getting their two cents in. But if this is the best victory lap the Democrats can muster, after a late-Saturday-night vote and with a generally compliant media, it makes you wonder what a loss would have looked like.