Inside the Heads of Obama's Health Care Town-Hall Rowdies

In the reports from the health care town halls that some frightened politicians have been holding with their constituents ("Raucous Crowd Greets Cardin at Health-Care Town Hall," "Crowd Heckles, Shouts, Lobs Insults at Farr's Health-Care Town Hall," "Violence Breaks Out at Democratic Town Halls," etc.), it's the loud voices that have gotten most of the attention. But it's the thought behind them that counts.

No one expected a trillion-dollar plan to effectively nationalize a giant industry—one that sees you naked, no less—to get by without strong objections. Some people may suspect the government is too big and cumbersome to do health care right. Others may oppose Obamacare because the president of the United States is a Marxist.

Ana Puig, a charming, well-spoken wife and mother of four in Philadelphia who emigrated from Brazil 22 years ago, clarifies: "I say Obama is a 21st-century Marxist. The word 'Communism' is no longer really allowed these days. When I started out, even the conservatives got scared off when somebody used the word 'Communism.' So I just use this—but it's the same thing."

Giving him lip
Reuters/Jessica Rinaldi/Newscom
Giving him lip

Puig got some media face time earlier this month, when she appeared in the now-famously-wild Arlen Specter Town Hall videos. She was not bellowing and bugging her eyes like the owl-faced man who told the Pennsylvania senator that God would judge him and his "damn cronies." Instead, Puig rather temperately asked Specter and HHS Secretary Sebelius, "Why is it we're turning the United States, that I've learned to love so much in the past 22 years, into a land of entitlement?"

Protesters howled in response and booed Specter as if he were a cartoon villain when he pointed out that Medicare and Social Security were entitlement programs, too. But Puig wasn't one of those people. She kept her cool.

Afterward, she made the talk circuit: the Fox shows of Neil Cavuto and David Asman, and Anderson Cooper's on CNN. She didn't say on these shows, as she said to the Voice, that Barack Obama is a Marxist. Nor did she say, as she said to us, that the way Obama is trying to put over health care reform is "the same thing" Hugo Chávez did to take over Venezuela—"infiltration of the education system, political correctness, class warfare ideology, voter fraud, brainwashing through the mainstream media."

She did talk about how she thought the government was suppressing the anti-reform movement, though. On CNN, for example, she said, "I feel like my constitutional rights are being taken away from me right before my eyes. I don't like the direction that we're going. They're taking away our freedom of speech. And the silent majority is finally fed up with it."

How many Obamacare protesters think Obama is a Communist? That's hard to say, because it's rare that anyone asks them that.

On the Web, the message that Obama is pushing an alien ideology—communist, socialist, fascist, take your pick—is so common as to be taken for granted. Former Hollywood player Pat Dollard writes, "Conservative Democrats Rebel Against Communist Health Care Bill"; Dr. Dave Janda warns that the plan is fascist.

But when protesters are asked why they're protesting, they usually express much milder sentiments—"They should be open and honest instead of ramming it through"; "It's just being rammed down our throat," as an Associated Press dispatch put it, before intoning, "A unifying emotion is distrust of the government and federal intrusion into individual liberties or personal choices." This goes down well with their fellow citizens: A USA Today/Gallup poll indicates that 53 percent of Americans who have been "following very closely" such coverage of the town halls are now "more sympathetic to the protesters' views."

It could be that these folks haven't thought any more deeply about it than their comments reveal. Maybe AP didn't talk to them long enough to find out what's really driving them. Or maybe message discipline has something to do with it: When the anti-Obama "tea party" movement held its first New York event back in February, many people stepped up to the bullhorn to denounce the socialism, Shariah law, and Hitlerism of the Obama administration. At the next, much larger, New York event, the few citizen-speakers who made it to the stage were carefully guided by the organizers; the more professional speakers who dominated put the ix-nay on the ocialism-say, and focused on "entrepreneurship," "out-of-control" spending, and the like.

Similarly, on TV shows about the town hall protests, you'll often see clips of a bunch of people yelling, and then a well-dressed talking head explaining what their yelling means. The explanation usually doesn't involve Stalin or Hitler.

You might get a clearer sense of what the anti-Obamacare message is about from the leader-in-exile of the conservative movement, Sarah Palin, than from its ground forces.

On August 7, Palin said on her Facebook page (!) that "the America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama's 'death panel' so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their 'level of productivity in society,' whether they are worthy of health care." (Asked about this subject, Ana Puig says, "No comment.")

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