H.L. Mencken famously observed that no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people. Were he alive today and watching our debate over health-care reform, he would nod his head knowingly and say, "See? I told you so." And he would no doubt have more than a few things to say about those whose seeds of deception have found such fruitful soil in the fears and prejudices of so many of our fellow citizens.
If it could turn back the clock, the Obama administration would probably go back to late November and undertake an elaborate war game on health-care reform. It would lock its smartest people away in a secure location for a week or so and have them play out every conceivable scenario and subplot, detailing plans for all eventualities. Then, when the time came, it would be prepared for anything.
Administration officials don't appear to have done that. But if nothing else, they should have been able to predict that the public option -- a Medicare-like program from which Americans could chose to get their health insurance -- would eventually become the ideological flashpoint of the entire debate. You didn't have to be a genius to see that coming.
When Barack Obama made the election promise of ambitious health-care reform in his first year in office, anyone who had paid attention to the issue would have predicted that the battle would be fierce. But one of the most curious developments of this debate has been that the group one would have thought would be leading the charge against reform – the health-insurance companies – has largely stayed quiet. They haven't aired attack ads, as they did in 1993, nor have they sent their representatives to the talk shows to blast the president and his efforts.
About 200 protesters wave signs and chant outside a townall meeting in Alaska where Sen. Mark Begich is speaking. The group is working to get Begich the hold a town hall meeting on President Obama's health care plan. (AP Photo/ Al Grillo)
If you've watched any of the growing library of YouTube videos depicting (mostly) middle-aged white guys yelling at their members of Congress during town meetings about health care, you may have had the following reaction: Why are these people so angry? Did that congressman kill that guy's dog or something? What the heck is going on here?
For many years, it was hard to know whether the oft-told story of the elderly woman who walks up to her congressman, wags a finger in his face, and says, "Tell Washington to keep its hands off my Medicare!" was actually apocryphal. But today, this episode is being re-enacted over and over again, at town meetings and in coffee shops where politicians go to practice their phrenological arts, passing their fingers over the ever-changing bumps on the public's collective pate. One recent example came in a Washington Postarticle, in which Rep. Bob Inglis, a Republican from South Carolina, related that an elderly constituent gave him this very instruction.