I really like and respect Marc Ambinder, but he is just wildly off base here:
But Democrats are beginning to notice that opponents of health care reform have discredited themselves. They ramped up much too quickly. When smaller, conservative groups Astroturfed, they inevitably brought to the meetings the type of Republican activist who was itching for a fight and who would use the format to vent frustrations at President Obama himself. There were plenty of activists who really wanted to know about health care, and some who were probably misinformed -- scared out of their chairs -- to some degree, but the loudest voices tended to be the craziest, the most extreme, the least sensible, and the most easy to mock.
The American people remain anxious and confused about health care reform. That is an underlying reality that Republican activists are so eager to exploit. But doing so required a certain restraint -- and a willingness to traffic in at least approximate truths -- and an ability to make distinctions within their own ranks about which tactics were valid and which tactics were venomous. It also required a sophistication about the media. ...
Remember, the target audience for Republicans is Blue Dog Democrats in Congress. They won't panic unless they perceive organic anxiety. The White House's goal was to prevent the Blue Dogs from panicking. The swing constituents in these congressional districts aren't angry Republicans, and the Blue Dogs know this. They're political independents for whom the sanctity of the process is important. These are the type of voters who like President Obama because he appears willing to bring people together even though they don't agree with their policies.
As usual, in a pattern that the left patented during the Bush administration, the organized right lost control of its message. ...
That last sentence is really the nub of the problem with this post, since the organized left kind of had the last laugh at Bush's expense in 2008.
I know what it's like to work in a political operation controlled by the White House. And I can attest to the fact that the Obama people are following the Bush playbook to a T: first, pivot to the scraggly disorganization and off-messageness of the opposition.
This is what "Rush is the leader of the Republican Party" was all about. It was what the strange recycling the birther stuff months after it first surfaced was all about. And it's embodied in the ethos of Marc's post, in which any failure to act within the received boundaries of political discourse is automatically a liability for Republicans and a plus for the Obama White House.
For the Bush Administration in mocking the anti-war movement, and Obama deligitimizing the "mob," what both White Houses missed is that the general public has different sets of expectations for political leaders and opposition movements. Oppositions are supposed to be loud, vocal, off-message, inchoate. The President of the United States is supposed to have his stuff together.
Take as an object lesson the Bush Administration's treatment of the anti-war movement. Early on, they were, in words Marc used, "easy to mock." The conservative media had a field day roasting Susan Sontag, then Michael Moore, then Cindy Sheehan, then John "stuck in Iraq" Kerry. And, at times, this genuinely rallied the base.
However, the left ultimately won the political argument about the war (even if they lost the policy argument) -- despite the ineptitude of their leading voices -- because the ever-increasing chorus of opposition eventually ignited a media backlash against the war. When Bush was at 70%+, his prosecution of the war was first branded "divisive" because something like 500,000 anti-war activists were marching on CNN. And it was a short hop from branding the war "divisive" to branding it a disaster.
Much the same is now happening with health care. The public option is, at the very minimum, now perceived as divisive. As controversial. As anything but the sweetness and light upon which Obama uniquely depended on to govern.
In the long run, the side that most insistently believes in its own arguments usually wins. This neatly sums up the outcome of the 2008 election, and the current state of the health care debate. I don't think every swing voter would categorically embrace everything that's happened at the town hall meetings (on either side), but the fervor of one side over the other sends important signals to unaffiliated voters that the doubts outweigh the reassurances on Obamacare, and to armchair quarterbacks everywhere, that the President is on the defensive and dogged by opposition.
More than that, it sends signals to swing Congressmen. It's not uncommon for members of Congress to freak out when one, maybe two people, pose uncomfortable questions in town hall meetings. Because members tend to self-perceive a bubble around them, they place high value on anecdotal feedback.
Now, scale this up to the scenes from town hall meetings. What are people who are programmed to overreact to negative feedback from a handful of questioners supposed to do when confronted with hundreds? React the opposite way? Implausible. Even if they believe the bogus astroturf argument, is it not reasonable to believe a seedling of doubt has been sown even in the most partisan Democratic members, that Obamacare is a political dog that's stirred up a hornet's nest.
More likely than not when September rolls around, the Blue Dogs are going to have a clear message for the White House: "Make this go away."