What are they so mad about?

WHAT ARE THEY SO MAD ABOUT?…. Reader B.A. asks a question about the health care debate via email:

I don’t understand why the wingnuts are so angry. Conservatives will be better off if reform becomes law, just like liberals and independents. Please explain the rationale for the fury.

Well, I’m not sure I can. It seems like one of those easy, basic questions that should have an obvious answer: what do conservatives want out of the health care debate? “Wingnut, smash” isn’t an especially compelling answer.

B.A. is right about the broad benefits for Americans. Some of Rush Limbaugh’s listeners are one serious illness away from bankruptcy. Some Michele Bachmann voters can’t get coverage because of a pre-existing condition. Some Glenn Beck viewers will see their insurance companies drop them when they need their coverage most. Many of Bill O’Reilly’s fans already enjoy the benefits of government-run health care. Some RNC donors may want to start their own business, but can’t because they can’t afford to pay the monthly premiums. Some of the same people who attended “Tea Parties” in April saw the insurance for themselves and their families disappear after they lost their job.

There’s nothing partisan or ideological about this — everyone is getting screwed by the status quo. We’re all paying too much for too little. A huge chunk of the country is uninsured, underinsured, or uninsurable, and the system is blind to how you voted in the last election.

Now, this is not to say that the Democratic proposals are flawless; they’re not. But what’s striking about the opposition to reform — at least the loudest opposition to reform — is that the right has chosen to completely ignore the actual flaws in the plan(s) and focus on imaginary, delusional nonsense.

So why are far-right activists so apoplectic? Why would people who stand to benefit from health care reform literally take to the streets and threaten violence in opposition to legislation that will help them and their families? President Obama supports an approach to health care reform that emphasizes competition and choice, doesn’t increase the deficit, and wouldn’t raise middle class taxes … and conservatives are comparing the plan to the Nazi Holocaust?

B.A.’s confusion is understandable. I don’t get it, either.

It’s probably a mistake to lump all opponents of reform in together; different groups are fighting with different motivations. I tend to see them in five different groups:

* The Greedy: There’s a fairly small group of people who profit handsomely from the broken status quo. Regular Americans are getting screwed by the system, but The Greedy are getting rich. Reform puts their profits at risk, so they’re fighting back to protect their livelihood.

* The Partisans: If President Obama does what many presidents have failed trying to do, it will likely make him more popular and make his presidency successful. The Partisans care more about Republican gains than the national well being, so they’re fighting to prevent a major Democratic victory because it would be a major Democratic victory.

* The Tin-Foil Hats: If reform passes, the government will kill their grandparents, create “death panels,” lavish benefits on illegal immigrants, and mandate that ACORN volunteers live in your basement. The Tin-Foil Hats have active imaginations, and believe their own ridiculous conspiracy theories. They’ll benefit from reform, but the voices in their head discourage them from believing it.

* The Dupes: Probably the largest group in opposition to reform, The Dupes tend to believe what The Greedy, The Partisans, and The Tin-Foil Hats have told them. When confronted with accurate information, The Dupes suspect the media, Democrats, and their lying eyes aren’t to be trusted. After all, Sean Hannity wouldn’t lie to them, would he? Like The Tin-Foil hats, The Dupes stand to benefit from reform, but are skeptical because they don’t know who’s telling the truth and who isn’t.

* The Wonks: The smallest of the groups, The Wonks are conservatives who actually care about substantive policy details, have read the proposals, and believe there are better ways to improve the system. The Greedy, The Partisans, The Tin-Foil Hats, and The Dupes tend to ignore The Wonks, which is a shame.

The Wonks notwithstanding, the first four groups combine to make a force to be reckoned with, and the various teams feed off of one another nicely. The Greedy aren’t a big enough group to disrupt a town-hall meeting, but if they can feed some ideas to The Tin-Foil Hats, they can get a lot done. The Partisans can’t come right out and acknowledge their concerns, but if they can rope in The Dupes, the combined force is considerable.

B.A. emailed, “I don’t understand why the wingnuts are so angry.” My suspicion is they’re angry for different reasons, many of which will fade if/when Democratic policymakers can manage to do the right thing.