Obama holds health care town hall
Aug. 11: President Obama heads to New Hampshire to hold a town hall meeting where he’s expected to respond to criticism of his health care reform plan. NBC’s Chuck Todd reports.
Health care overhaul
WASHINGTON - The White House on Monday started a new Web site to fight questionable but potentially damaging charges that President Obama’s proposed overhaul of the nation’s health care system would inevitably lead to “socialized medicine,” “rationed care” and even forced euthanasia for the elderly.
But in introducing the Web site, White House officials were tacitly acknowledging a difficult reality: they are suddenly at risk of losing control of the public debate over a signature issue for Mr. Obama and are now playing defense in a way they have not since last year’s campaign.
Speaking at a summit of North American leaders in Mexico on Monday, Mr. Obama sounded an optimistic note, predicting that “the American people are going to be glad that we acted to change an unsustainable system so that more people have coverage.”
But aides to Mr. Obama said the rapidly escalating threat to his health care plans had led him to order them to come up with a crisper message.
And Democratic Party officials enlisted in the fight by the White House acknowledged in interviews that the growing intensity of the opposition to the president’s health care plans — within the last week likened on talk radio to something out of Hitler’s Germany, lampooned by protesters at Congressional town-hall-style meetings and vilified in television commercials — had caught them off guard and forced them to begin an August counteroffensive.
In the process, the administration has had a harder time getting across the themes it wanted to strike in this period: that the current system is unsustainable and that Mr. Obama’s plan holds concrete benefits for people who already have health insurance as well as for those who do not.
“We all had a good sense that some of this was going to take place,” said Brad Woodhouse, the communications director for the Democratic National Committee. “To be fair, I think we were probably a little surprised — just a little — at the use of swastikas and the comparisons to Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich that even Rush Limbaugh has fanned the flames on. And we were a little surprised at the mob mentality.” (Mr. Woodhouse’s use of the phrase “mob mentality” was itself part of the Democratic effort to paint opponents speaking out against the plan as part of an unruly but organized effort.)
For some of Mr. Obama’s supporters, the newly galvanized opposition to his proposed policies provided a troubling flashback to the successful effort to stop President Bill Clinton’s similarly ambitious plans 16 years ago — a fight Mr. Obama’s aides had studied carefully to avoid making the same fatal mistakes.
White House officials say such fears are unwarranted, arguing that the conservative protests are getting outsize coverage on cable news. “Don’t associate loud with effective,” Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, said in an interview, adding that he detected no anxiety from supportive lawmakers in politically vulnerable districts. “What is coming across is a lot of noise and a lot of heat without a lot of light.”
And White House officials say their August counteroffensive is a break from the Clinton approach, which is now viewed as having failed to adequately address critics.
Mr. Obama will take the lead this week as he continues a series of public meetings to counter the opposition, events White House officials hope will offer a high-profile opportunity to confront and rebut critics.
As part of the effort, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Representative Steny H. Hoyer, the House majority leader, wrote an opinion article in USA Today on Monday calling conservative protests at Congressional town-hall-style meetings “un-American” for “drowning out opposing views.” (That prompted a swift rebuke from the House minority leader, Representative John A. Boehner, among other Republicans.)
New television commercials disputing the conservative attacks are in the works, Mr. Woodhouse said, and allied members of Congress have been sent home for the August break with a set of poll-tested talking points intended to shift the focus to the administration’s advertised benefits of the plan from the scary situations opponents have laid out.
“There’s a whole set of rumors that the old playbook would tell you not to do anything about because you draw attention,” said Dan Pfeiffer, the White House deputy communications director. “The lesson we’ve learned is you ignore these rumors at your peril, and the right answer is to take them head on in as big a way as possible