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    Admiring the Republican counter-attack on healthcare

    by Sunny on 14th August, 2009 at 9:01 am    

    As I’ve repeatedly stated in the past - Republicans are just bat-shit crazy. If you need evidence just watch some of the debates going on there now about healthcare. But as tacticians go Republicans are frighteningly successful and therefore it’s worth watching them to see why exactly they’re successful.

    First: go completely overboard. Sarah Palin is a brilliant example and her ‘death panel’ meme isn’t the only one. Obama is being called a socialist, a marxist, a communist, fascist and everything else under the sun despite being more right-wing than we would in the UK. There’s a book out by Michelle Malkin on how is administration is completely corrupt - and it’s only been six months since he took power. There Republicans couldn’t bring themselves to put out these books under the genuinely corrupt Bush administration.

    The point about going completely overboard is that it moves the territory somewhat in your direction. Of course most people won’t believe that Obama will create Death Panels, but they might believe there is no smoke without fire. They’ll start thinking the big fuss is there for a reason. That automatically moves the centre of debate in your favour.

    Second: have complete discipline. Moderate Republicans rarely criticise their wingnut counterparts. Sure they might argue about which direction the party should go in, but when it comes to opposing a policy they’re united. And when they have a common enemy (the Democrats) the moderates will never ever ever ever criticise the loony-fringe for saying absurd things. Why? Because of the first point. It gives the moderates more of a license to push the boat out, and it makes them sound sane. Discipline also ensures you spend less time fighting each other and more time fighting the enemy.

    Third: exploit the media. The media has to try and remain somewhat non-partisan and it’s driven by the chatter and whatever else everyone is talking about. Which means that if everyone is talking about Sarah Palin’s ‘death panels’ because it sounds so absurd - then it becomes part of legitimate conversation on Cable TV and then people start expounding other crazy theories. This means Democrats are constantly on the defensive and end up losing the battle. You never win on the defensive - only on the offensive.

    The second part to exploiting the media is to constantly accuse it of misrepresenting you and being biased against you. It doesn’t matter what the truth is - the aim here is to build a siege / victim mentality so your followers get even more angry and take action. If they think their views are being represented in the media then they won’t do anything further.

    But…. You may argue that this culture-war business is what drove the Republicans to become so small. Not exactly - there are demographic reasons for that. But the point is that for a small southern party the Republicans are still completely punching above their weight and outmaneuvering the Democrats on all fronts. If Obama makes one big mis-step then Healthcare is doomed and maybe his presidency.

    These Republicans are vicious. But it’s worth learning tactics from them otherwise lefties will keep losing.

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    36 Comments below   |   Add your own

    1. F Klug — on 14th August, 2009 at 9:21 am  

      The Democrats have the White House, the US House, and 60 in the US Senate. When will they stop allowing themselves to be bitchslapped around by the tiny Republicans?

      The NY Times has a story about how Obama has been bought by big pharma - that there will be NO public health insurance option, and no negotiations for lower premiums. Those are two things Obama explicitly campaigned upon. If their story is true, then reform is dead and the Democrats never intended to do it in the first place. Then the US public need to start a new party that will actually fight the corporations that own all the politicians.

    2. bananabrain — on 14th August, 2009 at 9:25 am  

      These Republicans are vicious. But it’s worth learning tactics from them otherwise lefties will keep losing.

      so much for your “new type of politics”. and what makes you think lefties don’t know this already? look at the conversation about the middle east!



    3. soru — on 14th August, 2009 at 10:58 am  

      You know who else has ‘admirable’ tactics, by similar logic?

      The government of North Korea.

      Given total dominance of the (domestic) media, and overwhelming force, they can make their population believe, or at least go along with, any batshit insane thing Kim Jong jnr comes up with.

      This is not a good thing.

      The tactics by which you govern determine the form of your government. If you use torture, you are authoritarian, the nature of your rule is that people are scared of being tortured by your goons. You might be a nice guy with reasonable ideas, you are still a dictator.

      Rule by propaganda, lies, fear and baying mobs is not a good system.

      The point about meaningful political change is not to put yourself in charge of a batshit system.

      It is to change the system. Fail to even try, and you’ve already lost.

    4. Adnan — on 14th August, 2009 at 11:07 am  

      I think most people are instinctively Rightwing :( and the media reflects that so these tactics are not so effective for the Left in opposition, and harder for the Left to defend against when in government.

      The Republicans seem to be very good at making shrill accusations like those above, whinging about partisanship but doing things like forcing a government shutdown and getting away with it, but seldom seem to get pulled up on it.

    5. Jai — on 14th August, 2009 at 11:23 am  

      Professor Stephen Hawking’s spirited defence of the NHS was an admirable reaction to an American newspaper’s attempt to use him as a tool to attack the NHS.

      There’s a huge amount of scaremongering going on in some quarters of the US. It’s pretty disgusting seeing the lengths that some people are going to in order to try to destroy Obama — admittedly it was to be expected, considering the Republican’s defeat in the election last year, but it’s still very, very nasty indeed seeing their efforts in action.

      Regarding the following:

      This means Democrats are constantly on the defensive and end up losing the battle. You never win on the defensive – only on the offensive.

      That’s absolutely correct, and it’s one of the ways in which Obama was able to win the election — it was when he stopped being either silent or constantly on the defensive, and actually started hitting back in earnest. He may need to do the same in order to succeed during his presidency too — not in terms of stooping to the same depths as his Republican opponents, but he’ll need to take the gloves off to some extent.

      The Republicans and their allies are absolutely desperate to destroy him, and they’re not going to stop until they either succeed, or (conversely) until they implode completely or they’re comprehensively discredited themselves.

    6. Rumbold — on 14th August, 2009 at 12:09 pm  

      I suspect that in a year or two we will see a backlash from moderate Republicans like John McCain.

    7. Johnbax — on 14th August, 2009 at 12:32 pm  

      Now, remind me what Damian McBride was sacked for? Maybe we should invite him back.

    8. Julia — on 14th August, 2009 at 12:40 pm  

      Regretfully the demagogery is swinging both ways. When you have democratic senators stating that they have not read the healthcare bill it’s going to incite outrage. When you have senators talking on a cellphone, ignoring the person asking a question in a town hall meeting, you are going to have problems, especially if such senator states after the event that the video was “doctored…” which it was not. You are going to have problems when you state that voices of dissention are nuts, a rable, crazy, racist, etc. etc. when they have the right not only to express their opinions, but also to voice that dissent. And that stupidity of asking people to report to the White House anyone stating wrong information on the Healthcare issue…as a liberal I can tell you that stuck in my craw. Basically, the biggest problem is a matter of trust and that is a big problem, a lot of people have lost faith and trust in President Obama as well as the democratic party. He’s losing those people who were not associated with any particular party, the independent voter of which I am one. If President Obama and congress want the people to follow they need to build up that trust again. But people will not follow blindly again nor will they be manipulated neither by slogans or press. That is over.

    9. Katy Newton — on 14th August, 2009 at 12:52 pm  

      I don’t think that these are tactics that anyone should adopt. I don’t approve of parties that never criticise anyone who they perceive as on their “side” and prefer to frighten people into rejecting stuff out of hand rather than reasoning, and so I would not vote for them or for anyone who adopted such tactics.

    10. Katy Newton — on 14th August, 2009 at 1:23 pm  

      … speaking of which: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2c-JEx-Kfvc

    11. Sunny — on 14th August, 2009 at 1:57 pm  

      so much for your “new type of politics”. and what makes you think lefties don’t know this already? look at the conversation about the middle east!

      Nah, doesn’t happen. The right-wing dominates that too.

      Given total dominance of the (domestic) media, and overwhelming force, they can make their population believe, or at least go along with, any batshit insane thing Kim Jong jnr comes up with.

      Yeah but the Republicans manage this without subjugating anyone.

      I suspect that in a year or two we will see a backlash from moderate Republicans like John McCain.

      Yah think so do you? Why would that happen? By that time they’d have destroyed healthcare plans if possible. No point him saying anything then!

      I don’t approve of parties that never criticise anyone who they perceive as on their “side” and prefer to frighten people into rejecting stuff out of hand rather than reasoning, and so I would not vote for them or for anyone who adopted such tactics.

      Yeah everyone thinks that Katy as voters. But the Republicans still end up winning debates and strategies.

    12. Katy Newton — on 14th August, 2009 at 2:14 pm  

      Well, I don’t know if that’s because of the tactics they use or because Americans as a whole tend to be rather more towards the right than we are. Even the Democrats are only really left by comparison with the Republicans. By our standards they’re centre/right.

      Did you watch the video? It would be funny if it wasn’t so, well, racist.

    13. Don — on 14th August, 2009 at 2:44 pm  

      Always worth checking the position of The Daily Mash.


    14. David Butler — on 14th August, 2009 at 2:51 pm  

      Is not the role that money plays in politics in the US a big part of the problem? The huge amounts that healthcare companies make in the US by exploiting the sick, means that they can buy lots of politicians.

    15. bananabrain — on 14th August, 2009 at 3:02 pm  

      Nah, doesn’t happen. The right-wing dominates that too.

      are you fecking kidding me?

      the right wing dominate the blogosphere, the guardian, the indy, the BBC, the NGOs, student life, the government, do they? what universe are you living in? can we have back the old sunny that used to live in the same universe as the rest of us, not Doctrinaire-Labour-World?




    16. Sunny — on 14th August, 2009 at 3:12 pm  

      Well, I don’t know if that’s because of the tactics they use or because Americans as a whole tend to be rather more towards the right than we are.

      That’s precisely because the Republicans have been doing such stuff for years.

      bananabrain - just my perception really. Incidentally I’m not sure how any of this is pro-Labour. I think they’re pretty rightwing too.

    17. Adnan — on 14th August, 2009 at 3:17 pm  


    18. Katy Newton — on 14th August, 2009 at 3:35 pm  

      That’s precisely because the Republicans have been doing such stuff for years.

      Americans are right wing because of right wing parties? Isn’t it the other way round?

    19. Sunny — on 14th August, 2009 at 4:01 pm  

      How do you mean? You think the success of the Democrats pushes them right-wards?

    20. sonia — on 14th August, 2009 at 4:32 pm  

      Sunny and Katy.

      left or right. As far as I can see, its a cyclical thing not a linear thing. Chicken and Egg question all over again.

      Anyway, Left and Right are relative terms and as such, any meaningful discussion about it ought to refer to some context about how people are interpreting these terms and the ‘reality’ that might transpire in terms of implementation.

      in this instance, i would ask, what do Americans think of as Left or Right. So many people imagine just being a bit intellectual and not particularly patriotic, as being Left-leaning, you’d be suprised.

      has America EVER had universal healthcare?
      NO. what does that say about them and their collective thinking?

      For example, few Americans now (because they’ve never had a tradition of such) seem to think it is acceptable to not have a collectively funded healthcare system available to all

      that doesn’t sound like there’s much collective responsibility going on there. Does this mean they have no ‘collective’ feeling? CLearly not, because the collective of the ‘nation-state’ and patriotism, is very important to them. In many ways, whether Left or Right, successive governments in the US have managed to instil this rabid collectivism in a strong-state Authoritarian way which for example, many Iron Curtain countries didn’t manage with their populations.

      My wider point is that somehow or other, in the US, the Governments and social institutions and patriotism and all their history seems to somehow have created a society that is not for the most part highly critical of ‘itself’ as a whole, as a group. And that is overall, very respectful of Authority, and conformist to the ‘Group’s aims, whatever they are deemed to be.

      Which is weird frankly -everyone always says how come the Canadians who weren’t Revolutionary ended up being much more liberal and libertarian where the Americans who go on about Liberty and fought for their freedom - have ended up being such a bunch of conformists, conservative and not particularly liberal, really.

      America is much more Authoritarian, Big-institution, Big-Policy than people realise - so much for ‘neoliberalism’. The question is really more about what Institutions have the power, are these Government institutions or not. is the “regulation” written down as legislation or ‘unwritten rules’ carried out which then effectively becomes ‘regulation’.

      really this Left and Right business cloaks more than it is useful. its bad enough here but at least we still have a ‘glimmer’ of what people are trying to get at. In the States, it is very very muddy.

      those French revolutionaries at least knew what they were situating themselves against, or ‘polarising’ against, when they used this L/R terminology.

      and well said Katy, just because politics is a dirty war game now doesn’t mean we should be encouraging anyone to keep it that way. That is what keeps it as the preserve of slimy individuals and groups hungry for power, and the rest of the pop. politically apathetic.

    21. Richard — on 14th August, 2009 at 5:03 pm  

      The right-wingers are continualy used by big business to advocate against their own interests. Big corporations and wealthy radio talk show hosts incite the poor and stupid to take positions that are to their own disadvantage. Mis-information, out of context statements and just plain lies are the weapons of choice. These people would have fit right in during the Chinese Cultural Revolution and would have looked with dismay when their own leaders turned against them.
      What passes for News in the US, is entertainment meant to fill the space between commercials. Minority views receiving majority coverage to sell products. The media adheres to the same ethical code as bankers.

    22. Vikrant — on 14th August, 2009 at 5:12 pm  

      The problem is that the health care debate has been completely hijacked by the right wing nut jobs. Sarah Palin is just vanilla compared to Glenn Beck… Just the other day he was on tv comparing health care to reparations. The crux of the matter is that many Americans simply don’t want to pay for poor people’s health care. Also the right wing hyperbole is soo ridiculous that genuine opposition to health care is drowned out. Its funny how Republicans actually manage to get senior citizens and white trash (who stand to benefit from the health care reform the most), to shill for the insaurance lobby!

      On a side note, you guys should see this clip when Glenn Beck loses it on national radio! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NF4PbqJsRH4

    23. MaidMarian — on 14th August, 2009 at 6:15 pm  

      Vikrant is right. The reason that healthcare was not ‘reformed’ several presidents ago is that every president previously has been able to read the runes and see that, put simply, Americans don’t see healthcare for the poor as something to be funded.

      The right has attacked so efectively on this because it is swimming with the tide. That doesn’t mean it’s palatable, but we are where we are. I just got a bit of a sense that Obama didn’t realise that.

      Change you can believe in? More like opposition you want to believe in.

    24. sonia — on 14th August, 2009 at 6:32 pm  

      For the ‘poor’ heck we are talking about Most of America! For most people, health-care is a BIG issue.

      we have this ridiculous idea that America is some sort of ‘rich’ first-world country

    25. Vikrant — on 14th August, 2009 at 7:01 pm  


      America maybe not be pretty rich first-world country, but you’d be surprised with the number of fellers blindly pouting Ayn Rand bullshit…

      In case you didn’t notice, most of the idiots who are disrupting the town hall meets are senior citizens and lower middle class, exactly the sort of people who stand to benefit the most from this!

    26. Amrit — on 14th August, 2009 at 7:24 pm  

      Don @ 13 - brilliant!

      This bit:

      Stephen Malley, professor of American History at Reading University, added: “To be fair to Fox News and the Republicans, they do have a principled objection to socialised medicine based largely on the fact that a black man won the election.

      “The thing you must always remember about the American right wing is that they are basically the baddies in a film.”


      sonia - some very well-thought out points (as always!) about America’s character. I’m not trying to slag religious belief, but the fact that the country was ‘founded’ on religiously-justified genocide (Manifest Destiny), developed through religiously-supported slavery (although I accept that religious people also opposed it) and that Christian belief is accepted as NECESSARY to rule the country, probably hasn’t helped them on the whole ‘Authority-loving’ thing.

    27. Avispa — on 14th August, 2009 at 9:41 pm  

      Sunny: “As I’ve repeatedly stated in the past – Republicans are just bat-shit crazy”

      Well it’s good that you’re reading up on them because there will likely be many European equivalents to the republicans as the minority population rises in Europe.

      Look at white people in almost any area in which they have been surrounded by non-whites for years and you’ll see that they tend to be very right-wing and have a tendency to hate any socialist programs.

      The reasons for this are simple in my opinion.

      Socialism subsidises the existance of people who they want to leave or die off.

      If you provide free housing, benefits and health care to migrants and/or minorities (domestic or international) you’ll get more migrants and minorities. If you treat them like dirt and give them nothing they’ll hopefully move away.

      It worked in the US where a large number of blacks moved to the Northern US to get away from the hostile attitudes of the Southern US.

    28. Reggie Greene / The Logistician — on 14th August, 2009 at 10:35 pm  

      At this point, although the debate and spin continue, this bill is essentially dead from an emotional and mandate perspective, even if some version gets passed. Whether it ultimately proves to be of any benefit to society, or a detriment, will take years, if not decades, to appreciate.

      This bill, and virtually anything that might be done to improve our healthcare system, involves too much complexity with which we are emotionally motivated to deal. In addition, there are too many factions with entrenched economic and/or financial interests to permit it to become a true health initiative.

      There’s been too much arguing about the details. People can not describe in 2 or 3 sentences the conceptual parameters of the effort and what it is supposed to accomplish. Unfortunately, people can describe how they feel about it in 1 or 2 words, and that’s not good. And that’s not to mention the elements who have whipped up hysteria by suggesting, with certainty, what will occur once the final product (which does not yet exist) emerges.

      If either side of the debate has to work this hard arguing about something which theoretically should improve the lives of the masses of people, there’s a big problem.

      Even more so than how something is done, people are interested in results, not the details. And once again, as is frequently the case with much of human processing, the facts don’t really matter. How people view the world, what they value, and what they want, matters.

      And there is nothing collaborative in nature about that. Factor in the strong individualistic American DNA, and this effort is emotionally toast.

    29. soru — on 14th August, 2009 at 11:25 pm  

      Yeah but the Republicans manage this without subjugating anyone.

      There is pretty much a spectrum:

      1. Jung family in North Korea (near 100% control)
      2. Mullahs in Iran (some internet and satellite stuff gets through)
      3. Berlusconi and cronies in Italy (it’s like if Murdoch were PM)
      4. Republicans in USA (people with money to spend on owning a TV station, radio show or newspaper are more or less by definition rich, and so are more or as cohesive a group as some of the above)

      Tactics that work when you are up at the top of this spectrum don’t when you are down below the bottom. It would be like hearing ‘combined arms’ was a good thing, so you get one guy to put a gun on his bike and another to drop bombs from a hang glider.

    30. Katy Newton — on 15th August, 2009 at 2:03 pm  

      @Sonia: Yes, all of what you said.

      @Sunny: No, I just sort of assumed that the reason American parties tend to be to the right of ours is that American people tend to be more right-wing than us. The idea of Americans as free citizens with independence, the glory of private enterprise, free trade etc - these things aren’t necessarily put into practice but they’re a big part of the American psyche, I think, and I’ve always thought that’s why their parties start centre and go right rather than starting at what we understand as left here.

    31. Soho Politico — on 15th August, 2009 at 4:00 pm  

      “These Republicans are vicious. But it’s worth learning tactics from them otherwise lefties will keep losing.”

      Andy Burnham’s comment about Daniel Hannan being unpatriotic yesterday is a good example of why this statement isn’t quite right. Burnham borrowed this tactic from the rightwing culture warriors, as you are urging, and came off worse. As I said today on my own blog, lefties can’t win culture wars. That is because siege-mentality favours the right.

      But there’s a difference between learning to be a culture warrior and making a forceful case in your own support, drawing clear lines of contrast between you and your opponents. Obama’s problem is that he doesn’t see that - he’s bipartisan unto death, and seems pathologically incapable of doing what needs to be done to protect his proposals - namely point out that the people fighting healthcare are hysterical fearmongers with a frosty relationship with the truth, but an intimate love-in with the insurance companies. So politics of contrast: yes, culture wars: no.

    32. Shamit — on 16th August, 2009 at 12:36 am  

      I agree with Sunny.

      Politics of contrast :Yes.

      Culture wars: Yes too.

      Time and time again excellent candidates and policies have been hijacked by culture warriors and the Democrats have had the moral victory - yet handed over political victories to the Republicans.

      What’s wrong with issues ads - and countering stupid Republican allegations and fantasies. On healthcare why not openly say —

      America’s infant mortality rate is worse than many other countries:

      about 50% of all patients who come to the emergency rooms are not covered;

      and the reason they are not covered is because of vested interests who cannot be patriots if they are helping the country towards bankruptcy.

      Every time a nutter goes on television arguing gays should not have rights of marriage — someone should take out a press release or call networks saying this homophobic neanderthal approach to society is wrong and un American.

      Challenge everything they say — and it does and did work. Playing their game with the truth and showing them up to be exactly what they are: fear mongering idiots who do not have the best interest of the country. This debate is not about big or small government - this debate is about what is right.

      This President is doing exactly that and he is got the Democrats together. BUt he needs more support with issue ads and more clarity.

      Obama would make sure that Healh Care Reform Act would pass - he has made it very clear. If necessary, the Senate would use archaic rules to push this through. And that takes guts.

      Finally, the White House, the DCCC and the DNC in general needs to be proactive and talk about Medicare (the most loved government programme in the US) and demonstrate that the Government is a force for good. and challenge these idiots calling this devil’s plan etc etc.

      Finally, someone should come out with a 2 page salient features of the President’s health care programme - including how its going to be paid for.

      Right now, no such document exist.

    33. soru — on 16th August, 2009 at 2:26 am  

      @32: actually there is:


      The issue is that the dems are reduced to putting this stuff out on government websites, where it will only be found by those looking for it. It’s the constant background of TV, radio and newspapers that drives opinion, and so long as that is in the hands of people who benefit from the status quo, change will be hard.

      People who can’t afford health care can’t, in general, afford TV ads either.

    34. Shamit — on 16th August, 2009 at 2:42 am  

      Soru — No it does not.

      The website is a defensive mechanism trying to deflect certain points raised by critics.

      Currently, the only two things that are out there which are actually substantial are the two bills:
      a) The House Bill — over a 1000 pages

      b) The Senate Bill - over 600 pages

      What I am saying someone needs to bring out the key points in 5 pages or less and why it is important - and how it impacts people. That’s how you sell legislation — anyone who looks at the bill — I am confused and it sends mixed messages. So, the website is fighting the war on the Republican battleground. The White House sort of had to do it to counteract.


      Dems are not lacking money — when you control both houses of the congress and the white house — usually you do well raising money.

      And the Dems have actually raised more money than repubs in the last 2 election cycles. So the issue ads quip about not having money - its not true.

      And for every right wing nutter there are few good democratic operators — and they are well funded too.

      No, its their we don’t want to go negative — we are far too good for that — well not too many elections or legislative victories can come out of that.

    35. Edna on Hols — on 16th August, 2009 at 12:42 pm  

      Say what one may about Michelle Malkin, the opinionated Filipina and Momma of two, would it be anything other than utter unimaginable joy to have her c-nt lowered onto one’s face and experience the sweet delight of her mewing with pleasure?

      “Lick harder, white boy!”

    36. Edna on Hols — on 16th August, 2009 at 12:44 pm  

      On 31 above …

      On hols, I realise that only 1% to maybe 5% of the sheeple take ANY interest in politics at all!

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