Last week, Dave Weigel queried about where the liberal outrage was over the Paul Ryan plan to end Medicare as we know it. Of course, there had been isolated incidents of protest at town hall meetings, but Weigel was referring to a more sustained kind of backlash.
As I’ve been reporting in this blog, there have been hundreds of anti–budget cut protests that oftentimes included the mantra of protecting all social services with Medicare thrown into the mix. However, protests centering on thwarting Ryan’s proposal had yet to manifest.
Until now. The liberal outrage has finally bubbled to the surface in an eruption of town hall meltdowns so prevalent that Weigel has since updated his Slate blog to read, “FOUND: More Angry Liberals.”
The Don’t Make Us Work ’Til We Die campaign (I love that name so, so much) scheduled days of action for yesterday and today in thirty-five cities across the country. The group’s flyer reads, “Social Security belongs to us. Putting insurance companies in charge of Medicare is crazy. Slashing health care for American families is wrong. Tell politicians in Washington ‘We Will Not Work ‘Til We Die.’ Hands off our Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid!”
Additionally, MoveOn is mobilizing and prepping its members for town hall events in their districts, according to Brian Beutler. Although, it’s unlikely liberals will (or desire to) mirror the insane display of anger at town hall meetings during the health care debate.
"I don't think it's possible to do that over again," said Justin Ruben, executive director of MoveOn. "It's like SwiftBoats in 2004. Interesting things happened in August, but it's hard to repeat."
But things have changed since 2009. Those town hall disruptions convinced members of both parties to lower their profiles. The shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) reinforced that instinct.
In 2009, town hall events were publicized and scheduled well in advance. That's not true anymore.
On top of that, progressive, Democratic, and union groups across the country aren't fighting off one threat to their interests—they're swamped by state-level fights over collective bargaining, public pensions, voting rights, and other conservative onslaughts.
The state-level protests are what I’ve been covering in this blog. People are so desperate to stop the bleeding in their personal lives when it comes to things like education and pension cuts and anti-union legislation that shifting attention to a national fight over Medicare, while possible, understandably takes some time to get off the ground.
Citizens have fights coming at them from every angle, it seems, but the rejoinder most definitely has now begun. Polls show Americans are firmly opposed to Ryan’s budget proposal, including 70 percent of Republicans opposing cuts to Medicare, and 80 percent of all Americans disapproving of the cuts to the program.
Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-PA) was one of the first representatives at the receiving end of a town hall protest last week. Then came Representatives Robert Dold (R-IL), Charlie Bass (R-NH), Sean Duffy (R-WI), Lou Barletta (R-PA), Daniel Webster (R-FL), Chris Gibson (R-NY) and, of course, Paul Ryan himself.
During his town hall in Hillsborough, New Hampshire, the first six questions Bass faced from constituents were about his vote to privatize Medicare. At Duffy’s meeting, the congressman grew so flustered by the onslaught of questions that he told attendees, “When you have your town hall you can stand up and give your presentation.”
In Florida, Webster’s town hall became so raucous that police officers were forced to flank the congressman and tell the crowd to quiet down. Meanwhile, Representative Gibson faced an outburst in Salem, New York, when he said Americans pay high taxes because “there are people in the country that are not paying taxes because they’re illegal [immigrants].” At which point, a town hall attendee cried out, “You mean like GE?!”
GE is one of the main targets of US Uncut (the group calls the company “King of the Tax Dodgers”) because the company has made $26 billion in profits since 2006 and has not paid a penny of federal corporate income taxes. In fact, taxpayers paid GE over $4 billion in subsidies and tax breaks over the last five years. Due to the outburst, Gibson was forced to agree the company needs to pay its fair share.
And of course there was the little incident in Milton, Wisconsin, when a constituent who described himself as a “lifelong conservative” asked Ryan about the effects of growing income inequality in the United States. Ryan made the mistake of saying the government does tax the financial elite, which elicited a chorus of boos from the audience. He also faced chants of “Ryan stop lying!” at a town hall in Kenosha, which forced the congressman to flee the scene.
These kinds of protests occur against the backdrop of the budget rallies that have broken out across the country and which, unlike the Medicare movement, have already been going on for several weeks.
Liberal movements always operate with an inherent handicap because of the problem of fracturing. The budget cut protests are often parochial in nature (to save a certain school, local teachers, etc.), so the movement lacks a sexy unified banner to marry the pockets of outrage.
For example, resident in Rochester Wednesday night protested the laying off of fifty-seven firefighters and the closings of three libraries. Meanwhile, teachers in California demonstrated against proposed salary cuts, while 1,000 people gathered in Pennsylvania to oppose Governor Corbett’s proposed cuts.
All of these events have different names and slogans, but the spirits of the movements are the same. Their organizers reject the two-tier vision of America in which the poor endlessly sacrifice while the rich and well connected abscond with tax breaks and subsidies.
In the case of saving Medicare, the movement will need to be united, but as polls clearly indicate, Americans haven’t yet needed a coherent activist message to convince them that the program is worth saving.