Taking the political temperature in the armpit of the armpit
This was going to be a single-payer post, but there was nothing new of interest on that topic; we already knew Republican Tim Murphy was on the wrong side and we already knew Democrat Jason Altmire had broken his promise to support HR676.
No big ideas here, just stuff for lovers of facts on the ground and anecdotal evidence. These are my notes on a "town hall meeting" in Monroeville, PA, the armpit of Pittsburgh, which in turn is said by some to be the armpit of the universe. Representatives Murphy and Altmire answered questions for about an hour.
To set the stage more concretely, Monroeville is an older, middle-class, car-culture suburb of Pittsburgh, known for its many malls and few sidewalks. It's in the 18th Congressional District, a seat held by Republican Tim Murphy. I suspect it's very Republican; I grew up in a neighboring suburb where we lefties were heavily outnumbered.
The meeting started with the two pols each giving a little speech about how great it is that they can work together across party lines to get good stuff for SW PA blah blah blah. Then they addressed questions that had been submitted in writing.
The real passion in the room was for oil prices. The first applause of the night was for Murphy's line "We should drill, but in a way that won't harm the environment" but by "harm" he meant oil spills; no one mentioned global warming or habitat destruction. There were vociferous demands for opening up ANWR and the continental shelf for drilling, angry mutterings and rude interruptions while Altmire explained the very small payoff from drilling there, the need to pursue alternative energy sources and conservation (even Murphy was sort of good on some of this), etc. etc. The crowd absolutely wasn't buying it; they are angry and want more oil now.
Less sadly, there was applause again when Altmire said we should pursue alternative energy sources with the same intensity we did the Manhattan Project or the moon shot. More sadly, "clean coal" and nuclear energy were touted by both pols (good for local jobs). Twice they tried to move on to health care, but the audience wouldn't let it go, calling out more questions -- why can't we use ethanol like Brazil; why can't we run cars on cheap natural gas; what about the evil speculators, etc. etc. Meanwhile some man in the back kept shouting, "But where's the hydrogen going to come from?" Must be a physicist.
No one mentioned global warming. Urgh.
Finally they got on to health care, but not much got said. Both of them resolutely avoided single payer. Murphy's all about cost control and eliminating waste. It would be great if we could defeat him this fall. Altmire is faintly better, says he's for allowing people under 65 to "buy into Medicare." But of course, there's no bill, and he advocates progress that is "evolutionary, not revolutionary." There was some applause when someone asked, "Why don't we all get your health insurance?". But this group isn't really feeling the pain on this topic, not the way they are on gas prices.
This audience is definitely on a different political planet. They absolutely loved it when Altmire touted his bipartisan rating at 51% by the National Journal. There was a surprising question from the floor: "Why don't you (Altmire) sign the discharge petition for the bill blocking the Fairness Doctrine?" When Altmire promised to vote for the bill but deplored the "chaotic" discharge petition process, saying, "What's the hurry?" someone shouted, "We have to get it done before November when the Democrats take over." On the final issue, the mortgage crisis, the only applause was for Altmire's line, "It's not fair to ordinary hardworking people to bail out people who made bad decisions."
So. Must have cheaper oil now, and we'll deal with any consequences later. Nice to have more efficient cars, good mass transit, and decent health insurance. I worked hard for my nice house in the suburbs and don't you dare give my tax dollars to some feckless person with a subprime mortgage. I vote the person, not the party, and I don't want my congressman to vote party line, especially if he's a Democrat.
Sigh. I sense some Obama themes here, especially in the dislike of the "party line," but I just don't picture this crowd going for any Democrat no matter how disgusted they are with the way things have gone lately. If Obama can win over voters like these I'll be one surprised consumer of crow. But if he does, it will be at what price?
An unexpected dissonant note: I saw five Hillary t-shirts in the audience. Afterwards, I chatted them up, and it turned out to be a group of ten real live PUMAs: some gay, some possibly transgender folk, some nonwhite, all youngish -- well, younger than me. They were there to hassle superdelegate Altmire. They're meeting once a week to write letters, and planning to leaflet on July 4th. I think I'll drop in on the next meeting to see what's cooking. It's too bad I have to go to Monroeville for that.