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First thoughts: What we saw yesterday

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** What we saw yesterday: While the focus of all these town-hall meetings across the country has been on health care, what has become clear is that the anger and frustration in the debate is about much more than that. Yesterday, one of us attended Sen. Ben Cardin's (D) town hall in Hagerstown, MD, which is in a county McCain won but a state Obama overwhelmingly carried. The town hall had it all -- shouting, shoving, at least one threat of pressing charges, two confrontations on race outside the town hall and people walking around with Obama-as-Hitler signs. At least the three-quarters of the crowd didn't vote for Obama and said they would never vote for him. They were irritated with the direction of the country after the 2008 election, with a man as president they didn't vote for, and with a Congress ruled by Democrats. They were angry with being out of power and having -- because of being in the minority -- what they felt was no say.

*** LaRouchies, Glenn Beck disciples, and Democrats -- oh my: But there was no indication that these folks were so-called "Astroturf" grassroots supporters. There were many who were affiliated with the tea parties and even LaRouchies likening Obama to Hitler. One LaRouche organizer said he was there to "cause some trouble." There also were some Obama supporters, who came, they said, because of being frustrated at what they'd seen on TV and were encouraged to come out by either MoveOn or Organizing for America. For many of the frustrated, there was real desperation in their voices -- the belief, almost to the brink of tears, that the country is going to the pits. They are the true believers. They were also big-time Fox News viewers and Glenn Beck disciples, hammering home the perception that this is where these people get their news, er, information. One mother-daughter combo -- unprompted -- enthusiastically boasted, "Fox rules!" "It's all we ever watch!"

*** Some Republicans say -- "Stop": And now some prominent Republicans are pushing back against the rhetoric at these town halls. Said Dan Senor on TODAY this morning: "Republicans run the risk of overplaying their hand, and they themselves beings associated with very extreme charges and extreme rhetoric. And that can backfire." Adds former Bush speechwriter David Frum: "It's not enough for conservatives to repudiate violence, as some are belatedly beginning to do. We have to tone down the militant and accusatory rhetoric. If Barack Obama really were a fascist, really were a Nazi, really did plan death panels to kill the old and infirm, really did contemplate overthrowing the American constitutional republic—if he were those things, somebody should shoot him. But he is not. He is an ambitious, liberal president who is spending too much money and emitting too much debt. His health-care ideas are too ambitious and his climate plans are too interventionist. The president can be met and bested on the field of reason—but only by people who are themselves reasonable." Also, the White House is now responding to another viral email, this one on health care.

*** Chuck Grassley said what? Not normally known for trying to start partisan wild fires, Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley tiptoed into the death panel/living will controversy yesterday. Now Grassley may have been trying to have it both ways, bringing up the topic but by using "counseling" on "end of life," he wasn't acting like some fire-breather and he was coming closer to what's ACTUALLY in the House bill than some conservatives are saying. But the left is not happy with any of this chatter, and the coverage of Grassley's comments might be enough to scuttle the prospect of negotiating a bipartisan deal on health care. As for Grassley, word is he realizes that even if he gets everything he wants, he can't bring any more than the two Republicans already talking with him (Snowe and Enzi). And if that's the case, then Grassley -- who is up for re-election himself in 2010 -- can't afford to vote against conservatives, so maybe this was his way of finding a public out from the bipartisan talks. By the way, speaking of the Senate Finance Committee, how will the left greet the news that the White House seems to promising BEHIND THE SCENES that the Senate Finance Committee is where the CORE of the bill will be written?

*** "I said , 'Thanks but no thanks to those death panels'": Speaking of death panels and living wills… On her Facebook page, ex-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has defended her debunked claim about the "death panels" that would occur under health-care reform. "Yesterday President Obama responded to my statement that Democratic health-care proposals would lead to rationed care; that the sick, the elderly, and the disabled would suffer the most under such rationing; and that under such a system these 'unproductive' members of society could face the prospect of government bureaucrats determining whether they deserve health care," she said. "The provision that President Obama refers to is Section 1233 of HR 3200, entitled 'Advance Care Planning Consultation.' With all due respect, it's misleading for the president to describe this section as an entirely voluntary provision that simply increases the information offered to Medicare recipients."

*** Murkowski vs. Palin: But Obama isn't the only person who disagrees with Palin on this. So does Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R). "It does us no good to incite fear in people by saying that there's these end-of-life provisions, these death panels," Murkowski said, per the Anchorage Daily News. "Quite honestly, I'm so offended at that terminology because it absolutely isn't [in the bill]. There is no reason to gin up fear in the American public by saying things that are not included in the bill." Of course, this story is as much about Murkowski sticking it to Palin (who defeated Murkowski's father for governor in 2006) as it over exaggerations in the health-care debate.

*** Health care and 2008: As we watch the town-hall story continue to play out, one irony is how the McCain campaign and the right never really challenged Obama's health-care plans during the general election. Their attacks instead focused on experience, Bill Ayers, taxes, and "spreading the wealth." Which reminds us of this reality: The issues that get debated in a presidential election aren't always the ones that consume a president's first couple of years in office. Just think back to the 2000 campaign -- there were few clashes over national security, which became the dominant issue after 9/11. Indeed, a look back at the four presidential and vice presidential debates in last year's general election, there were 21 total questions asked on the economy, 15 questions on national security issues (outside of Iraq and Afghanistan), eight questions on energy/climate change, six questions on Iraq/Afghanistan, five questions on health care, three questions about the tone of the campaign, two questions on abortion, two questions on education, two questions on entitlement reform, and one question on gay marriage.

*** Netroots Nation: Here's another flashback from the '07-'08 presidential campaign: Almost two years ago to the day, Hillary Clinton found herself under a little fire -- from Barack Obama, John Edwards, and liberal bloggers -- at the YearlyKos convention over her answer about taking money from lobbyists. And here's another irony: Tonight, her husband Bill Clinton delivers the keynote address for the same confab of liberal blogosphere (although it now has a different name, Netroots Nation). Some of the panels today for the beginning of the three-day Netroots Nation: "A Warming Web: The Blogosphere and Climate Change," "They Myth of Post-Racial America," "Scaling Obama: Applying the Online Campaigning Lessons of '08 to State and Local Races," and "Staying On Top of Congress' Shenanigans." 

*** Where's the release? Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's office asks this question: On May 5th, the Obama administration claimed that the stimulus would save or create 600,000 jobs. Today marks, it says, the 100th day. So where is the press release announcing the 600,000 jobs? As many of us learned, they aren't tracking actual jobs created, it's a statistical estimate and at this point we're guessing the White House knows they need actual numbers.

Countdown to Election Day 2009: 82 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 446 days

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