Diminishing returns, cont’d

DIMINISHING RETURNS, CONT’D…. We talked the other day about the right-wing protests against health care reform, and how attendance seems to have fallen off quite a bit as the process has unfolded. It looks like we saw another example of this today.

Hundreds of conservative “tea party” activists gathered outside the U.S. Capitol Tuesday to protest health-care legislation up whose fate will be decided by the House this week, urging Congress to “kill the bill.”

Carrying signs condemning “Obamacare” and “socialized health-care,” they cheered on a litany of speakers who insisted it is not too late to stop a bill they consider unAmerican. Some wore suits as they prepared to enter the Capitol and confront their members of congress, where they hoped to capture the encounters on video and post them online.

Speakers accused House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of “treason” because of the procedural maneuver she plans to use to push the bill through.

As a substantive matter, it seemed pretty obvious that most of those complaining about the health reform proposal don’t have a clue what the plan actually is. It takes a unique kind of activist to travel to a rally to oppose legislation he/she doesn’t understand.

But of particular interest here is the turnout. The DNC did a headcount of about 300 people, but the Dems probably shouldn’t be considered an objective source. Rally organizers estimated “about 1,000” attendees, which is far below the 17 gazillion attendees usually identified by Tea Party event organizers. Journalists seem to be putting the number in the “hundreds.”

Whatever the case, as the reform debate nears its end, it seems conservatives aren’t showing up in force the way they once did.

“The air is out of the tea party balloon,” DNC spokeswoman Brandi Hoffine said. “Today’s dismal showing on Capitol Hill coupled with the turnout we’re seeing at health reform rallies across the country where supporters are outnumbering opponents by three to one and four to one clearly demonstrates that the momentum is squarely on the side of those who support reform.”

That’s some partisan bravado, to be sure, but it’s not unwarranted.

On Friday, Tea Party organized a “Take the Town Halls to Washington” effort, with the intention of meeting 50 key House Democrats. They fell 49 short. November’s “house call” event was a bit of a flop. December’s event on the Hill was even worse.

I don’t want to dismiss this too cavalierly. Some Dem lawmakers are easily rattled, and might feel antsy if even a few constituents showing up for an event like today’s. For that matter, if those lawmakers aren’t hearing from reform supporters in their districts, even weak, scarcely-attended right-wing protests might be influential.

That said, just as Democrats are generating some momentum for final passage, it’s not unreasonable to wonder if the opposition is running out of steam.