Where are the Republican Ideas?

The Democrats have large majorities in the House and Senate.  The President is a Democrat.  I believe the majority of governors are also now Democrats.  And being Democrats, they are bickering among themselves about the details of things they all agree need to be done.  It seems to me this would be a perfect opportunity for the Republicans to offer a substantial plan on, say health care.  Instead, we have the birther movement.  Newsweek has published the President’t birthcertificate to celebrate his birthday.

But the birthers are sure this is fake.

Back to health care.  Congress is back home this month and holding town meetings.  Instead of offering alternative and maybe asking some reasonable questions, the Republican strategy is to scream and disrupt these meetings.  In fairness to them, this is not a tactic they invented (as much as Dick Armey’s lobbying firm might want to think they did).  Chris Hayes  in his blog in the Nation looks at the situation this way

I’m on a team in American politics: I’m proudly, vigorously on the left. So there’s no need to bend over backwards to be formally consistent. That said, intellectual honesty requires one to separate out one’s formal objections from substantive ones and I’ve been given pause by the remarks of some right-wing activists like Jon Henke. He and others have been saying: wait a sec, when the left shows up and makes noise somewhere it’s activism, but when the right does it it’s thuggery and mob rule?

So after discussing the issue on Maddow last night, I’ve been asking myself, aside from the deep substantive opposition I have to the tea-baggers’ ideological agenda (and the insane hypocrisy of people on Medicare screaming about the dangers of government-run health care), what, exactly, my beef is?

I don’t think there’s anything “wrong” with the tactics of those people who, with the facilitation of large monied interests, are organizing and shouting down their opponents at town hall meetings. But one thing should be clear: these are the tactics of a small, motivated, enraged and engaged minority. The footage of recent town hall scrums remind me, actually, of ACT-UP actions back in NYC when I was growing up. ACT-UP, the AIDS and gay rights group that flourished in the 1980s and 1990s, was impassioned and angry and used dramatic confrontational action to great public effect. They were a vanguard. They were a small, tightly coordinated impassioned minority. And they were fundamentally on the right side of history.

What frustrates me, however, is that no one in the press confused ACT-UP with broader public opinion. No pundits said “the public is clearly feeling rising unease about government inaction on AIDS, as evidenced by the latest ACT-UP protest.” Why? Because they were gay, and they had AIDS and they didn’t look like “average citizens” or “heartland” voters.

At their root, the town hall protests are a very similar phenomenon. I think these people, unlike ACT-UP, are wrong. Deeply wrong. (They’re also not literally fighting for their lives because of a homophobic and indifferent government, but that’s neither here nor there). But they’re a small, tightly coordinated, enraged minority. They want to scream and fuss, it’s a free country, as they say.

The problem is the overwhelming instinct on the part of pundits and the MSM to look, and see old white men in overalls and Legionnaire hats and think they are watching someone give voice to the sentiments of broad swaths of the electorate. And it’s just not true. What we’re seeing at these events are the voices of radicals, extremists and zealots.

Harold Myerson writing in the Washington Post points out that the protesters are overwhemingly not people of color.

Last weekend, right-wing Republicans stormed a number of such meetings across the country, shouting down members of the House and, in Philadelphia, Sen. Arlen Specter and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. In Austin, protesters blocked Democratic Rep. Lloyd Doggett’s car and made it impossible for him to talk to constituents about such matters as appointments to military academies.

What’s particularly curious about these two protests is that they took place on very liberal turf — Philadelphia and Austin — yet the local liberals and people of color seemed absent. Philadelphia is a heavily African American city, yet one strains to see any blacks among the protesters on the YouTube clips. The activists who have been whipped into a frenzy, and who have dominated the recess meetings so far, appear to be conservative whites.

The question, as Meyerson goes on to ask, is why aren’t people of color, the young folks who worked for Obama, the progressives and the liberals turning out for the town hall meetings?   Meyerson again

When future historians look back at this passage in our nation’s history, I suspect they’ll conclude that this Obama-isn’t-American nuttiness refracted the insecurities and, in some cases, the hatred that a portion of conservative white America felt about having a black president and about the transformation of what many thought of as their white nation into a genuinely multiracial republic. But whatever the reasons, a mobilized minority is making a very plausible play to thwart a demobilized majority.

So we have a black President that one whole segment of the population (77% of Americans think he is a citizen but only 42% of Republicans think he is)  thinks is not really not President trying to reverse the slide into economic inequality and to promote racial equality at the same time.  This is a time when we should be having great debates about ideas not screaming at each other about where the President was born.

A genuine debate about ideas would help create better legislation and make the Democrats sharpen their ideas.  Maybe it would get those of us who support health care reform out to town hall meetings to talk about ideas.  But, unfortunately, the Republican party seems to be out of ideas.

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