Are Progressives the New ‘Silent Majority’ in Healthcare Debate?

Art Levine

While corporate-organized GOP mobs dominate mainstream news coverage with bully-boy tactics at Congressional Town Halls, the strong majority of the public that favors a public option and genuine health reform isn’t being heard.

While some of the GOP tea party” extremists have taken to chanting Silent No More! Silent No More!” at their highly visible protests, those who actually appear to be silent are the average families yearning for affordable, accessible healthcare that they can count on even if they lose their jobs. They’re not found at this protest:

But who is really being silenced? One sign of this slighting of mainstream desire for change, of course, comes in the distorted media coverage that both spurs extremists and gives them inordinate coverage.

But just as striking, as noted by writers at Daily Kos. Media Matters for America, and other outlets, is the way the media has framed the responsible” and centrist” position in Congress as one that, in fact, ignores the desire of most Americans for real change and the public option. For instance, most polls show at least 50 to 60 percent, and as much as 73 percent of the public, favors the public option.

Yet, until progressives and labor groups began ramping up their organizing efforts this week to increase turnouts at these tumultuous Town Halls, progressive — or even mainstream — voices on healthcare won’t be heard in large numbers at these meetings, or even fairly represented on news and talk shows.

All this is reinforced by media coverage that presents the GOP mobs as average folks rising up to express the will of the people against Obama’s granny-killing socialized medicine, ignoring the role of corporate front groups in organizing these protests. As Media Matters noted about an AP report this week:

The Associated Press cited an Arkansas town hall meeting hosted by two Democratic congressmen that was disrupted by protestors as an example of how “[l]awmakers across the country are encountering growing public doubts” about healthcare reform. But the AP did not note that conservative organizations opposed to the Democrats’ proposals are conducting a campaign to pack those events with their supporters.

But, it’s just as troubling that the conventional inside-the-beltway wisdom treats legislation that guts real reform as a centrist, bipartisan breakthrough the rest of us should welcome. As detailed by Media Matters for America:

The Washington Post described an emerging” bipartisan health care reform bill that would abandon the government insurance option that President Obama is seeking” as a move toward” the center,” but in fact, several recent polls show that a majority of Americans support a public plan option. The media have repeatedly cast the public plan option as a far-left proposal, skewing the health care debate…

Most recent polls show that the majority of Americans support a public option. Recent polling from Washington Post/​ABC News, Time, and McClatchy all show more than 50 percent support for a public option; two Quinnipiac polls and a New York Times/​CBS News poll show more than 60 percent support; and an NBC News/​Wall Street Journal poll shows 46 percent support for a public option:

Quinnipiac: 62 percent support public option.” When asked whether they support or oppose giving people the option of being covered by a government health insurance plan that would compete with private plans,” 62 percent of respondents in a July 27-August 3 Quinnipiac poll said they support giving people a public option. In a July poll asking the same question, 69 percent said they support a public option.

Washington Post/​ABC News: 54 percent support a government-run plan.”

The question facing reformers now is whether the public, including progressives who read magazines like In These Times, will become actively engaged in making their voices heard. This week, as documented in a new Huffington Post article I did on Fighting the GOP Mobs,” progressive and labor groups, including Obama’s Organizing for America dramatically stepped up their organizing efforts to increase turnout at the Town Halls, supplementing their phone banking and canvassing work.

And groups such as Campaign for America’s Future and People For the American Way are also promoting websites with take action” information, with resources to find the Town Hall meetings near you and contact phone numbers of legislators, all for people who want to make sure that the reform most Americans want isn’t hijacked by extremists and corporate interests.

The Campaign for America’s Future summed up what’s at stake:

Don’t Let Special Interests Use Town Halls To Block Change

The battle for health care reform has moved to town halls during the August congressional recess. But the wild mobs disrupting events, intimidating lawmakers, and shouting down reform are not just expressing their views, they are doing the dirty work for corporate interests that want to cut the heart out of the Obama health plan.

We absolutely cannot let the far right fringe do the bidding of the insurance and drug lobbies and hijack the debate. We need to show up, big.

Take back the town hall! Make our voices heard for real health care reform.

As this calendar shows, there are plenty of events going on in August where concerned citizens can promote change and let their members of Congress know that most Americans favor healthcare reform

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Art Levine, a contributing editor of The Washington Monthly, has written for Mother Jones, The American Prospect, The New Republic, The Atlantic, Slate​.com, Salon​.com and numerous other publications.
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