Sunday, May 24, 2015

Tea Party activists delivered on the outrage, but in the biggest story of the entire health care fight missed by the press, they met their match on the battlefield that counted the most: town hall meetings held by Democratic members of Congress. It took about a week for health care supporters to organize a push back. But by August 10, most Democratic town hall meetings were filled with as many or more boosters of reform than opponents. Democratic members of Congress saw a large crowd of friendly faces, holding pro-reform signs, insisting that the meetings be civil and telling personal stories of how the health insurance industry and system were denying them the care they needed. It wasn’t powerful TV, but it was powerful politics.

As a result, when Congress returned to Washington after Labor Day, the Tea Party was stunned to see Democrats moving ahead with health reform. Instead of being defeated, President Obama strengthened his party’s resolve by giving a rousing speech that moved Democratic conferences in both Houses of Congress forward.

The following excerpt from Fighting For Our Health describes the beginning of that turn-around after a Tea Party demonstration in Philadelphia that made the national headlines.

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On Sunday, August 2, Dr. Valerie Arkoosh, the Philadelphia physician and president of the National Physicians Alliance, was attending a large town hall meeting held in the flag-draped auditorium of the National Constitution Center. This was a modern museum dedicated to the Constitution, located two blocks from Philadelphia’s Independence Hall, the home of the Liberty Bell. The Pennsylvania HCAN coalition had recruited more than half of the 350 people who filled the hall for a meeting with Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. Arkoosh remembers being terrified by the protestors, “I was scared. We’d had a very cursory bag check — no metal detectors. The vitriol was frightening. There were people in the room who were against the bill who had perfectly legitimate questions but they didn’t get to talk either. The tea party people would not let any factual answers to be given — if anything remotely positive was said they would start shouting. I was in awe that the two of them [Specter and Sebelius] stuck it out.”

Marc Stier, HCAN’s Pennsylvania director, was sitting next to Philadelphia Congressman Chaka Fattah, who told Stier, “You’ve got to do something.” Stier told me, “I tried to lead chants but we were outshouted. We were back on our heels. The vehemence and rudeness. Specter’s chief of staff told me that in twenty years of politics, no one had ever treated Specter like that. People kept interrupting, kept shouting about socialism, liars, high taxes, death panels. We were just not prepared for anything like this. Press reports said that the crowd was evenly divided even though three-quarters of the people were our folks.”

Marc Stier walked out of the disastrous town hall in the Constitution Center and quickly realized what every great organizer recognizes: The opposition always presents the greatest opportunities to build power. “I realized that we needed to call Carney and Dahlkemper’s offices right away.” Christopher Carney and Kathy Dahlkemper were two Democratic members of Congress from central Pennsylvania who represented conservative districts. “Up until then they would never tell us when they were holding a town hall. But that event in Philadelphia pushed them into our arms; they needed our help.” Stier continued, “If we hadn’t been doing all this work for months, sending regular delegations to their offices, meeting with them, generating press in their districts, they would have never come to us. From that point on, we got people out to all their town halls. We pretty much outnumbered the tea partiers consistently, even in rural areas. Now we had a partnership with these members of Congress.”

Richard Kirsch is a Senior Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute and a Senior Adviser to USAction. He was National Campaign Manager of Health Care for America Now during the legislative battle to pass reform. Fighting For Our Health is available in bookstores February 1. You can also purchase a copy here. Follow the conversation on Twitter and Facebook.

  • Dominick

    The biggest problem with healthcare reform is the fact that the Administration, and President Obama in particular, failed to articulate its benefits to the American people. Instead of focusing on its benefits to both the average American and corporate American they succumbed to GOP/Tea Party pressure and spent most of the time on the defensive trying to justify what should have been a highly successful policy change. Fortunately for them, most Americans are starting to see the benefit of healthcare reform, a fact that make the GOP proposal to repeal it and dangerous political strategy to embrace at a national level.

  • Woodstock22

    Healthcare should not be a privilege in any civilized society. Every citizen should be entitled to adequate healthcare as part of their citizenship. Healthcare should not be a ‘for profit’ industry at all. CEOs of health insurance companies should not be taking home windfall bonuses while healthcare costs continue to skyrocket. A public option healthcare plan would stabilize the cost of healthcare by redistributing the excess revenues back into the system, rather than being stolen by those at the top of a corrupt ‘for profit’ industry, as it is now.

  • ToddN

    I have never read such a pack of lies all in one place in my life. The only supporters of Obamacare at any of the town hall meetings I went to were hired union thugs. Obama and the democrats had a filibuster proof majority in congress and passed it over the objecitons of 70% of the American public. Maybe this author has forgotten the election 0f 2010 and how the Tea Party patriots voted many of those same unpatriotic democrats out of office.
    Please keep believing the Tea Party citizens aren’t going to make any difference. We vote, we change government the proper way, and we’ll ALL be out there come November to vote the communist out of the presidency.

  • kurt.lorentzen

    It might even have garnered support from much of the opposition if Obama hadn’t caved in to the the big money. Some of the poorest working Americans (i.e. Wal-Mart employees) won’t be getting the support of their company because Wal-Mart filed and received a waiver. Unbelievable! That also goes for 1235 more companies as of Janunary 6, 2012. That’s another 3 million people that will be subsidized. And unlike Canada and European countries, Obamacare does not address the cost of pharmaceuticals. Those systems beat the drug companies down to reduce costs, sometimes by 90%, over US prices for drugs (and there’s still good profit for the drug pushers at that price). But to get big pharma onboard, they will continue to be able to set their own price. Most everyone agrees that a nationalized health system is feasable, but behemoth legislation like Obamacare will just add debt and continue to enrichen corporate America. C’mon people, you’re walking around with blinders on.

  • TWFlash

    I doubt that Toddn would recognize a Communist if one bit him on the nose, but doesn’t he just exemplify the Tea Party? Being completely oblivious of the facts makes him the perfect echo chamber for the vitriol of the hate mongers (like that jerkoff, Rush Limbaugh). Wake up, Dude! Turn off Fox Noise and come back to planet earth. The only future you need to be afraid of is the one in which the MNCs own the country and your grandkids are working in sweat shops for $3.50 an hour. If you don’t understand that that’s where the Greedy Old Party wants to take us, you really are a dumba$$.

  • jimackermann

    TWFlash is a very good name caller. Typically what you do when the facts don’t support your position. Well, TW can call me a name too. I will support to the max anyone or group the will put Obama Care out of business. If Obama care proceeds, American health care will fail the people. Look at other examples of government let programs. Ask a veteran what he or she thinks of that health care system. We could all get the marginal care that the vets get.

  • condonate

    Regardless of where you stand on this issue it is hard to deny that Democrats are at least making an effort to improve our hapless health insurance system. However imperfect it may be at the moment it is surely be no worse than the Republican’s comprehensive plan. Wait, my bad. They don’t have a comprehensive plan.

  • tim440

    As a Iraq war wounded vet, I can vouch for the excellent and responsive health care I receive from the VA. And “Ackerman” it aint just me saying it…here are a couple of links that back up my experience. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1376238,00.html and
    http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/2005/0501.longman.html
    A quick suggestion “Ackerman”…don’t fall into the typical Tea Party trap…know what you are talking about before you make assertions…and for the coup de grace: all americans should have health care as good as the VA. And it would be a heck of lot cheaper than the current system.

  • TWFlash

    I retired from the United States Air Force in 1991, after 20 years of service spanning the last three years of the Vietnam conflict up thru the end of Gulf War One. That’s right, jimackermann, I’m a vet. I’m also reasonably intelligent and very well-informed. So go ahead, ask me what I think of Government healthcare. Because, unlike Rush Limbaugh, I’ll tell you the truth, which is that Government healthcare is the best thing since night baseball. My physician’s a medical genius who’s made me healthier at 59 than I was at 29. He’s performed acupuncture on me, and even cut me open to do a biopsy, right in his office. The only pills I take are vitamins. As I approach 60, I’m ten foot tall and bulletproof, because I enjoy excellent care, provided by a highly competent physician, whose office is five minutes from my home. And, into the bargain, my co-pays are extremely reasonable (and I mean EXTREMELY). Pretty sweet deal, huh? Oh yeah, and it costs me less than $500 a year, family included. I can see why Republicans in Congree don’t want us all to have that. I sat in a bar one night during the healthcare debate in Congress and wasted an hour trying to convince the Republican on the next barstool, who’s healthcare was costing him and his family $12,000 a year, that I was getting the better deal. But you know how stubborn those wingdings can be…. The problem with Obamacare, is that it doesn’t do enough. It should have included a Public Option, which would have forced the big insurance companies to compete for our business, thus driving down healthcare costs for everyone. Still, Obama’s healthcare program will help millions upon millions of people, and isn’t that what we God-fearing people are all about? I’m real sorry to have hurt your feelings jimackermann, but it’s time for all you Republican stalwarts out there to switch off Fox News and rethink your positions. By the way, I’m a registered Republican, but I’m no fool. We need to unite our Government. We need to make it all Blue. I’m voting democrat right up and down my ticket. It’s our only chance and, therefore, our only choice.

  • Lawrence Nannery

    These yokels who criticize what they know nothing about are living in the middle of the 19th century. Why is that every other advanced country — 30 of them — have better health care systems better than our rich country? And why is it that the very best healthcare is given in the publicly paid for veterans’ administration?

  • freethinker

    Now that we have finally had a chance to read some of the monster and some real monetary numbers are becoming available, it is abundantly clear that the majority of the President’s promises concerning the health care bill can never be kept. If allowed to stand, it will become a financial nightmare for the country. We know the intent was good, but the implementation is a fiasco. The President, if his veto cannot be over-ridden, will never agree to the major changes needed for it to be a useful act. The only solution is to vote Republican, no matter how much you like the President. It is the only chance to save the country from a financial and healthcare disaster.

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