Is The Health Care Ire Part Of A Larger Anger?

We knew health care would be the hot topic during the congressional recess, but does the sense of anger erupting at town halls across America reflect some larger sense of frustration among Americans? Guest host David Greene speaks with Matt Continetti of the Weekly Standard about the political news of the week.

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DAVID GREENE, host:

Of course, President Obama's event in Montana is just one of many. Town hall meetings have become quite a phenomenon in this health care debate. News analyst Juan Williams is away this week. To talk about the town halls and more generally how conservatives are feeling about the health care issue, we've brought in Matt Continetti. He's the associate editor of The Weekly Standard. Matt, welcome to the show and thanks for doing this.

Mr. MATT CONTINETTI (The Weekly Standard): Good morning.

GREENE: So I guess we knew that health care would be the big hot topic during the congressional recess. Mr. Obama's event there sounds like it was fairly cordial. But this sense of anger that we've seen that's motivating a lot of these protestors and others, does it reflect some sort of larger sense of frustration among Americans that we're seeing?

Mr. CONTINETTI: Well, I think it reflects a shift in public opinion away from the president on the health care issue. We have a Marist poll out just this weekend saying that more people disapprove of the health care bill than approve of it.

GREENE: And that's a change.

Mr. CONTINETTI: Well, I mean, it's a gradual shift. You know, in general people have said - certainly they voted for Obama in 2008. Now once the details are emerging of the congressional sausage factory, I think the more people find out about this plan the less they like it. It's, you know, an interesting coincidence, perhaps not really a coincidence, that the more Obama has gone around the country selling his program, the further his approval ratings have dropped.

GREENE: I want to ask you about a phrase that got a lot of attention this week: death panels. It was a term used by former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin to describe a provision that, if enacted, would have covered end-of-life counseling under government health care programs. Why did this seem to strike a nerve with people even if it wasn't exactly an accurate description?

Mr. CONTINETTI: Well, Palin has a talent for striking nerves. But this language was very visceral and it galvanized the entire country. I think for a couple of reasons. One, it evoked - even though it's mistaken - I mean there are no death panels…

GREENE: Right. We should make that clear.

Mr. CONTINETTI: …in any of the bills in Congress - it does evoke this specter of government rationing of health care. Which, I mean, you know, the Obama administration has alluded to toward bending the cost curve, for example. And this is something that people just dislike very much.

And the second thing is that it evokes a discrepancy between different spheres of decision making, right? People want to decide for themselves how to go about getting living wills, how about - to talk about end-of-life issues with their doctors. This is something they want to decide. And they're very uncomfortable with the government either instructing them how to go about it or incentivizing doctors to bring it up with people.

And this is a larger concern that I think most people have with Obamacare, which is that it's substituting local decisions with national ones, centralized ones made by our Congress here in Washington, D.C.

GREENE: Let me actually ask you about that, because it sounds like this goes beyond health care. I mean, we're talking about some of these big philosophical issues, you know, how much government involvement there should be. Is there an underlying challenge here to President Obama himself, the legitimacy of his presidency, or are we just talking about sort of philosophy issues at this point?

Mr. CONTINETTI: I think the challenge is more to Washington than it is to Obama. I've been thinking lately, where did this start, where did this originate? And I think we can see the beginnings of the, you know, the populist revolt, if that's what you want to call it.

Actually, in Bush's second term, with the resistance of the immigration reform that Bush proposed and that most of, you know, Congress was ready to enact, including large sections of the Republican establishment here in D.C. But those bills were knocked down not once but twice in consecutive years because of public resistance.

GREENE: We don't have a whole lot of time, but I just want to ask you, back in 1994, I mean, anger became a lot of - something we heard from a lot of Republicans, and it seemed to work well - I mean against President Clinton and then came a sweeping victory in the elections in '94. In just a few seconds, are we seeing that sort of thing building here?

Mr. CONTINETTI: Well, we're seeing anger and frustration, but we're not seeing it redound to the benefit of the Republican Party yet. And the Republicans have to be careful because it could go off in a very different direction.

GREENE: All right. Matt Continetti is an associate editor for the Weekly Standard and he joined us in our studios in Washington, D.C. Thanks so much.

Mr. CONTINETTI: Thank you.

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