By Dana Milbank
Thursday, July 2, 2009
Introducing President Obama at yesterday's online town hall discussion, senior adviser Valerie Jarrett encouraged viewers to go to the White House's official site on Facebook.com, telling them: "As health-care reform moves through Congress, it's very important to President Obama that we take the time to engage the American people."
Well, Mr. President, consider them engaged -- but perhaps not exactly in the way Jarrett intended.
On the Facebook page, to which visitors to WhiteHouse.gov were referred with instructions to "join the conversation," the president and his aides were treated to the full range of American public opinion, in the form of thousands of raw and unfiltered posts. Some of those who weighed in were profound, some were less so, and a few should probably have their Internet privileges taken away:
Stacey you're an idiot.
ha! socialized medicine! nay sayers! LOL!
red pill . . . blue pill . . . hahaa.
Yoga, Qi Gong, and Tai Chi improve quality of life for all.
WHO LIKES POTATOES!!!!!!!
Obama just [expletive] on the morons in the thread.
Mayo Clinic stinks
OBAMA I DONT WANT THE WORLD TO END IN 2012 CAN U STOP IT??????????????
Well into the forum, one of the "conversation" participants had a reasonable request: "wud u guys stop clogging the feed with ur nonsense and ask questions to the president!!"
Another participant was intrigued. "Does the president see our messages?"
While Obama probably would have found the thread entertaining -- and certainly more lively than you usually get on an official White House Web site -- he probably had more pressing affairs of state than spending a few hours scrolling through the comments. As it turns out, the president took no questions from Facebook in the town hall forum, which he participated in from Annandale, and only one from Twitter.
But in a sense, the wild and wacky Facebook thread accurately captured public sentiment when it comes to health-care reform. Americans are passionate and confused about it -- and their opinions are all over the lot.
A CNN-Opinion Research poll found that 51 percent of Americans favor Obama's health-care plan, but a Wall Street Journal-NBC poll found that only 33 percent think it is a "good idea." A New York Times-CBS News poll found that nearly six in 10 would be willing to pay higher taxes so that all could be insured, but a Kaiser poll found that 54 percent would not be willing to pay more to increase the number.
A Quinnipiac University poll found that a majority -- 54 percent -- believe that reducing health-care costs is more important than covering those who lack coverage, while the Times-CBS poll found that 65 percent thought that insuring the uninsured was a more serious issue. A Washington Post poll found that 57 percent of Americans are dissatisfied with the health-care system -- but 83 percent are satisfied with the quality of their own care.
In short, when it comes to health care, the state of the union is confused. The confusion won't be cleared up by the complexity of the debate, with all the jargon about community ratings and insurance exchanges and risk adjustments and guaranteed issues. Obama, in his town hall discussion yesterday, described the "public option," the "single-payer plan" and ways to "close the so-called doughnut hole."
The social-networking threads accurately captured the confusion in the public square. Corporate interests and advocacy groups tried to get their points in. And warriors of the left and right took turns on the soapbox, occasionally even addressing the topic at hand. "I like that we have a president that can talk intelligently on a subject with no notes or teleprompter," offered a Twitter user called "Mommyvomitpants."
"Certainly not everyone has fallen for all this communistic ideas???" a more conservative Twitter user inquired.
The Twitter discussion was tame compared with the free-for-all on the Facebook page the White House set up: "Amy, fine then, what is the cost PER MONTH of someone who chooses the public option??? HUH?? . . . Bijan try to get some health care in Canada. Broken and infected teeth are uber pricey. . . . We need midwives Mr. President. . . . OBAMA YOU ARE TAKING OVER THE HEALTHCARE AND GM AND GOD KNOWS WHAT ELSE. . . . SINGLE PAYER, NOW!!!"
Inevitably, the squabble spread into a more generalized ideological brawl: "OBAMA IS EVIL. . . . One thing we can all do is not watch Fox. . . . Hey Schell, do more than scream slogans. . . . Gina -- Shut UP! . . . Hit mute, Hussein. Come on . . . who's the one with the gun Curtis?"
And then there were those who seemed to be having conversations only with themselves:
"Thank you and our First Lady for the love you are sharing with me and the world. . . . We don't need anyone supporting Obama's socialistic agenda, lobbyists are a plenty. . . . Jesus was a socialist. . . . This entire show has been nothing more than another series in Obama Propaganda. . . . Free speech is dying. . . . GLBT Community rights!!!!!!."
And every few minutes, somebody named Brian Taylor, his Facebook photo a picture of a young boy, posted the same message: "OBAMA I DONT WANT THE WORLD TO END IN 2012 CAN U STOP IT??????????????"
One thing at a time, Brian.