The Bright Coast

Progressive Thoughts from San Diego Alums on Law, Politics, and Culture

Are Liberals Helping the ‘Death Panel’ Nuts?

Posted by demkid on August 13, 2009

Leave it to a baseball statistician to analyze this whole health care protest rigamarole in a way that’s meaningful and highly-based on simple reality.  Of course, that baseball statistician is Nate Silver, and he’s been cutting through the crap on this and a myriad of other issues for quite some time now.  His latest post, “Are the Health Care Protests Working? And are Liberals Helping Them?”, begins, simply enough, with the facts: right now, we can’t really know a whole lot about the views of average Americans on the pending health care reform bills (or how the protests are affecting these views) because coverage of the protests has been so mindnumbingly partisan on both sides.  This is all eerily similar to the Tea Party coverage earlier this year, when it was difficult to really tell how successful those gatherings were and how they were influencing public opinion.  (Note my April post on Fox News inflating numbers and Silver setting things straight.)  As with most of his analysis, Silver examines the numbers, including a recently-released Gallup poll showing that there is slightly more sympathy to the protesters’ cause because of the uprising.  He cautions, however, that these types of polls are “notoriously slippery,” notes that other polls have not found much change in public opinion, and concludes that while the upside of the protests is debatable, they have at least served to “make views on health care reform more entrenched.”

The most intriguing part of Silver’s post discusses the blogosphere’s reaction to the protests.  Conservatives can say and do just about anything to make the protesters look like angels and the proposals themselves look like vehicles that would bring pain and suffering to every American citizen.  The right is clearly good at using deception to create fear, and there is no real downside to this strategy (the ex-governor writing about “death panels” is just one example of many).  On the other side, though, liberal bloggers and commentators seemingly have to walk a very fine line when talking about the protests.  Silver explains:

On the one hand, some amount of pushback is necessary — you don’t want this to be a one-sided debate. On the other hand, the pushback is certainly propelling the protests — which are being carried out by ultimately a very small fraction of the electorate — further into the public spotlight, which may encourage the mainstream media to cover them. So maybe on CNN, instead of getting a 2-minute, largely sympathetic story on the protests for every hour of coverage, you’re instead getting a 6-minute, somewhat-to-mostly sympathetic story on the protests (that seemed to be about the ratio when I was watching the network during an airport delay today). It’s not clear to me that this is such a good trade-off for liberals.

So, the left must continue to fight back, but being overly-ambitious likely will serve to add fuel to the fire.  This concept makes a ton of sense to me, and it’s a big reason why I consider myself to be a moderate Democrat.  Many times, liberals just don’t know when to zip it.  Faced with utter crap coming from the right, they pick it up and fling it right back, rather than looking for ways to better connect with the electorate.  In response to angry protesters (on many occasions sent by special interests), the left then send their own protesters (from unions, etc.) to join the fray.  Party leaders then use terms like “un-American” to refer to those disrupting town halls.  This in turn provides the right with more talking points and further confuses the main issue.  The strategy is completely backwards, but it’s to be expected in this era of “he who shouts the loudest gets the biggest ratings.”  As I explained in my most recent post, I could care less about the specific reasons behind the protesting.  There, I said that disruptions were disruptions regardless of their legitimacy.  Arguing that those who speak up at these gatherings are doing so for the wrong reasons similarly is a poor strategy for liberal bloggers and commentators, because the main goal is lost.  The left many times forgets that the objective is to get meaningful legislation passed because they’re too busy playing Cowboys and Indians with the far right.  As Silver concludes (and I wholeheartedly agree), the best strategy is to show what the reality is concerning the health care proposals.  This involves settling on a particular plan, having better and more effective messaging, and demonstrating that the protesters are protesting about things that aren’t even proposed.  Focusing on this strategy and avoiding silly cable news-type turf wars would ultimately result in a successful reform package that a large majority of the public could get behind.

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