Passive or active resistance?

PASSIVE OR ACTIVE RESISTANCE?…. The New York Times’ Gail Collins mentions in her column today that enraged conservatives are “following members of Congress around this summer, disrupting their constituent meetings and shrieking about socialized medicine.” They are not, she noted, “following the great American tradition of dissent.”

Collins adds, however, that it’s better for reformers if the White House and its allies simply leave the mob to do what the mob wants to do.

Speaking of bad plans, the White House has been urging the Democrats to rally their own forces of placard-waving, sweaty, yelling supporters to confront the crazies. This makes no sense at all. It’s not often that members of Congress look as sympathetic as they’ve been lately on YouTube, surrounded by loud and unlovable hecklers. In fact, the best chance for health care reform may be to sell it as the thing that those people pounding on the doors of a town meeting in Tampa and screaming at the fire marshals don’t want.

It’s not an unreasonable point. The “crazies” have proven themselves to be truly insane, complete with Nazi-related placards, death threats, and nooses. They’re shutting down public forums, picking fights, spreading vile nonsense, and comparing health care reform to the Nazi Holocaust. Any reasonable person watching events unfold this week would be disgusted by what’s become of the conservative opposition — which has been organized by corporate interests and egged on by Republican leaders.

Why not, as Collins suggests, just leave them to humiliate themselves?

The answer, I suspect, is that to actually create some momentum for health care reform, there needs to be a concerted push launched by the American majority that’s been waiting for reform for decades. It’s not enough to simply let right-wing mobs destroy whatever remaining shreds of credibility the conservative movement had left. It’s necessary for reform advocates to be vocal and public, letting the media and policymakers know there’s a genuine hunger to pass, at long last, meaningful reform.

Now, this obviously doesn’t mean having reform supporters act like far-right lunatics, shouting down Republican lawmakers, shutting down public events, and threatening physical violence. But Collins assumes rallying proponents is a “bad plan” because it means “confronting the crazies” and taking the focus off of mobs the American mainstream should find repulsive.

But that doesn’t seem like the best way to win a policy debate. Many have tried sitting back, passively waiting for crazed activists to discredit themselves in the eyes of the political establishment. The more successful efforts have gotten in the proverbial game, rather than waiting on the sidelines. The silent tend to go unheard.