I attended Congressman Jay Inslee's health care townhall meeting in Edmonds, Washington, on August 31st. It was my first townhall meeting and probably gave me impossibly high expectations for any future townhalls I might attend.
My estimate is that there were over 2,000 very engaged people packing the gym at Edmonds-Woodway High School. At first glance, it appeared that people supporting a government or single-payer option out-numbered those who were in opposition to such a plan but I believe that was because there were several groups outside the building distributing signs in favor of such an option; based on audience response during the course of the townhall, I would guess the actual breakdown of those in attendance was 60% opposed, 40% in favor.
I wondered in a previous post how Inslee has managed to pass himself off as a moderate. True, he probably couldn't do so in Oklahoma City, but he's been fairly successful here. After seeing him in action, I'm no longer wondering. Despite his policy shortcomings, Jay Inslee is a skillful politician. He knows his talking points and he sticks to them and his command of double-speak and obfuscation is formidable. While he's not ashamed to pander to his base - and is not at all hesitant to offend his "non-supporters" - he manages it with a disarming air of reasonableness.
Two themes dominated Inslee's comments during the course of the afternoon. First, despite being reminded twice from the audience that nearly everyone in the room was pro-health care reform, with the differences being about how reform can best be accomplished, Inslee continued to frame it as an all or nothing question. This comes straight from President Barack Obama and is part of the larger strategy to paint the GOP as mere obstructionists with nothing of substance to offer; nothing new but it must be refuted at every opportunity.
Second, based on Inslee's language (and many signs), look for the public option to be characterized as a matter of "choice," a popular concept among progressives. Everyone benefits from choice, right? Everyone deserves a choice, right? Choice is good, right? Choice for everyone except the people footing the bill, right?
Inslee did have one moment of complete candor. When asked if he would support legislation that did not include a public option, Inslee's answer was an unambiguous, "no."
"My belief is that a public, uh, option is fundamental...I will do everything within my power to do a public option. I hope it’s in the bill. I will fight for it...."
Thank you, Congressman Inslee, for that moment of honesty in what was otherwise an exercise in distortion and evasion. And thanks, too, for confirming my hunch that you're not all that interested in really listening to your constituents; your mind is already made up.
Cross-posted at It's Only Words.