Challenges for Organized Obamacare Protests

Monday, 16 Nov 2009 04:07 PM

By Herbert London

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Playing hardball has become the calling card of the Obama administration. When it doesn’t get what it wants, threats emerge, what some now call the Rahm Emanuel method. But it isn’t only the formal apparatus of government that is used in a coercive way. The Obama team has apparently unleashed its informal allies, i.e. union organizers, ACORN and its alliances.

On Oct. 28 protestors organized for the third time in front of the New Jersey Blue Cross. On this occasion protestors were intent on creating a sit-in in the building’s lobby.

There were eight arrests and pandemonium broke out when the police arrived. The building was shut down for most of the workday, but what is most interesting is the coordination of these protests in 20 locations around the country.

At several locations in New Jersey, Newark, Trenton and Camden, so-called “trick or treat” bags were being distributed in which a case was made for a single-payer medical plan for the country and an argument was laid out against private insurance companies.

The trick was the hateful practices of insurance companies, and the treat was the introduction of a government operated system.

As a believer in “sunlight as the best disinfectant” I’m persuaded free speech on public issues is not only necessary, but a condition to be encouraged.

However, there is a difference between educating, persuading and convincing and sit-ins, protests and intimidation.

I have now seen the latter used as an approach to the healthcare issue and I find it reprehensible. Buses filled with angry protestors have been transported to healthcare debates in an effort to intimidate those opposed to government sponsored programs.

Who is responsible for hiring these buses and from where do these protestors come?

There isn’t any way of knowing whether the government has been actively promoting this activity, countenancing it or simply averting its gaze. But it is ugly and it appears to be planned and systematic.

Recognizing the positive role of a minority to foment change Samuel Adams said, “It does not take a majority to prevail . . . but rather an irate, tireless minority, keen on setting brushfires of freedom in the minds of men.”

It is also true that there is an obverse observation: A tireless and irate minority can foment revolution and destroy freedom by setting brushfires in the minds of men.

Those committed to undoing an existing system can do so based on the level of commitment and risk tolerance. The Bolsheviks called themselves “the majority,” but they were a tiny minority willing to put lives on the line to destroy the Russian monarchy.

What they put in its place may have been even more monstrous, but it affirms the view a minority can prevail.

The danger with the contemporary protestor is he doesn’t have to assume much risk in a system that is tolerance crazy. You might think after two disturbances in New Jersey, the third wouldn’t be tolerated at all, but you would be wrong.

As a consequence, minorities can dictate to majorities that are acquiescent or complacent. In my judgment that explains why one is somewhat suspicious about these organized protests, particularly when there isn’t transparency about the sponsors.

Samuel Adams may have been speaking about the American Revolution, but at the moment there are malevolent influences applying the same method. It is a matter about which we should take heed.

Herbert London is president of Hudson Institute and professor emeritus of New York University. He is the author of "Decade of Denial" (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2001) and "America's Secular Challenge" (Encounter Books).

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