Friday, August 07, 2009


From the Volokh Conspiracy: David Hyman looks at how polite and calm demonstrations against the Bush Administration were.

Democratic legislators are complaining vigorously about the push-back they are receiving on health reform during town hall meetings. House Majority Leader Pelosi stated that reform opponents were "carrying swastikas and symbols like that to a town meeting on healthcare" and dismissed them as "Astroturf" rather than a grassroots movement. An editorial cartoon in the Washington Post similarly suggests that the protests are being orchestrated.

Senator Reid views protesters as a "fringe that is trying to mess up our meetings." The White House Deputy Chief of Staff has advised legislators if "If you get hit, we will punch back twice as hard." The Administration is asking individuals who hear things that are "fishy" to submit them by email. Paul Krugman concedes that anti-privatization activists" who opposed social security reforms during the Bush Administration were "sometimes raucous and rude, [but] I can't find any examples of congressmen shouted down, congressmen hanged in effigy, congressmen surrounded and followed by taunting crowds." Krugman concludes this is "something new and ugly" – and reforms opponents must be motivated at least in part by racism.

Krugman's claim that protests of this sort are unprecedented is wrong. A virtually identical scenario played out in 1989. By an overwhelming margin, Congress had enacted the Medicare Catastrophic Coverage Act in 1988. The Act provided more extensive hospitalization benefits and prescription drug coverage, but it imposed the costs of that benefit on the elderly.


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