Last week I got an email from Organizing for America, the internet organizing project of the Democratic National Committee. Normally when they send these out they’re asking for money (Q: “Can you commit to donating $10 a month until health care is passed?” A: “We’d love to, but sorry, we’re too poor after we get done paying for our health care”). But this time they were asking people to show up and pester senators at their offices about health care reform. Because I never pass up an opportunity to be part of an angry mob or to pester authority figures, I readily agreed.
In the email they sent me, OFA specifically targeted Sen. Dianne Feinstein, I assume because she’s more on-the-fence about health care than California’s other (and more progressive) senator, Barbara Boxer. They also used an interesting tactic — they had you fill out a form where you specified a time to show up at the senator’s office. It was sort of like you were making an appointment, except — and here’s the really fun-filled part — the DNC didn’t actually notify anyone from the senator’s office that this was going to happen. Now that’s some fancy organizin’ right there!
I’m pretty sure this was orchestrated this way intentionally, as a subtle way of pointing out to centrist Democrats like Feinstein that the angry mobs we’ve been seeing in the red states in the past week can break both ways. It definitely seemed to catch them off-balance (one of the three fresh-faced staffers who turned out to manage us said that they’d only heard about this through the grapevine on Sunday — don’t they read DNC email?). A few of us mobsters were testy that the staffers had relegated us to meeting in the lobby of the building (particularly the woman who said she’d driven an hour to get there), but then again, angry mobs should not expect the red carpet treatment, because that’s not what being an angry mob is all about.
So about forty or fifty people turned out to hear the staffers gladhand them. Every person who spoke up was in favor of health care reform with a strong public option, by which we meant a publicly-run insurance to compete with private insurance to keep costs down. Attendee ages ranged from 20s to 60s, about evenly split between men and women. I was particularly interested to see how sophisticated people’s opinions were regarding the nuances of the debate — most people wanted Sen. Feinstein to understand that their definition of a “public option” isn’t these bogus-sounding insurance co-ops the Republicans have been pushing at the behest of their medical-industry overlords. (The staffers wouldn’t say which version of a public option Feinstein supports, but promised that her office would put out a position paper on health care within a few days. Awesome. Have a nice day.)
The staffers did do a creditable job handling the mob; the mob, for its part, was polite but insistent. (At one point a staffer tried to blow off a prickly question by saying “there isn’t even a bill yet,” a scummy rhetorical tactic that Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri also tried to use in a TV interview yesterday. I called bullshit on him — there are actually several health insurance reform proposals floating around at the moment, and this debate has been going on for more than twenty years overall — there shouldn’t be any reason why any senator can’t at least subscribe to some opinions on what health care reform should look like by now.)
And that led the group to question another interesting nuance of this — if Feinstein is really in favor of reform with a “strong public option,” as the staffers asserted, why won’t she come out and say it already? Where is her voice in this debate? Why isn’t she going on TV to talk about how she feels? Her silence is really deafening, and the mob gave her staffers an earful on this point. One woman pointed out that there’s a lot of education to be done, even among progressives, to get all the aspects of this fairly complicated debate straight, and one reason why people are getting so bent out of shape over this across the country is because there isn’t a lot of good, straightforward information out there to counter the lunatic assertions that government regulation of health insurance will instantly turn all Americans into zombie vampire British communists. (Along those lines, I would refer you to this terrific series of back-of-the-napkin explanations of the health care debate — thanks to my pal Amy for the link.)
Update: Feinstein has found the time to complain to the White House about these irksome, pesky constituents coming by her office to talk about this important issue. Yet she hasn’t yet found the time to put out the position paper on health care that her staffers promised last week.
Update 2: Ten days later, still no sign of the promised position paper from Sen. Feinstein.