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Obama Faces 'Scare Tactics' Head-On

Trying to put new energy behind his health care plan, President Barack Obama on Tuesday took direct aim at the health insurance industry, promising Americans that 'meddling' bureaucrats should not be determining anyone's care. Video by AP

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By Anne E. Kornblut and Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, August 12, 2009

PORTSMOUTH, N.H., Aug. 11 -- President Obama began a personal effort Tuesday to reclaim momentum for his health-care initiative with a direct rebuttal of what he called "scare tactics," rumors and misrepresentations.

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At a town hall meeting that had the feel of a campaign rally, administration officials sought to tap the skill in confronting public doubts and fears that helped Obama win the White House. Aides who worked on his campaign are now sharpening his health-care message, they said.

"Every time we come close to passing health insurance reform, the special interests fight back with everything they've got," the president told a friendly crowd of 1,800. "They use their influence. They use their political allies to scare and mislead the American people. They start running ads. This is what they always do. We can't let them do it again. Not this time. Not now."

Obama delivered the message as anger flared outside his event and at congressional town hall gatherings nationwide, sentiments that his top advisers say they take seriously even as they decry what they view as a mix of genuine outrage and ginned-up activism.

As the president spoke, demonstrators outside held posters declaring him a socialist and dubbing him "Obamahdinejad," in reference to Iran's president. People screamed into bullhorns to protest a bigger government role in health care. "Nobama Deathcare!" one sign read. A young girl held up a sign that said: "Obama Lies, Grandma Dies." Images of a protester wearing what appeared to be a gun were shown on television.

Senior adviser David Axelrod said the president had for weeks been "relishing" the opportunity to engage with people to defend his efforts to overhaul the health-care system.

"His instinct whenever there is controversy or debate is to wade in and speak directly to people," Axelrod said. "There is a whole lot of misinformation out there. The best way to deal with it is directly."

He said the angry crowds at congressional town hall meetings do not reflect the larger society.

"Most Americans are interested and concerned about this issue and are listening intently," he said. "There are people on all sides of the debate who are a little over the edge. They tend to be the best TV."

In Pennsylvania, Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) faced an unruly audience that booed and jeered as he attempted to respond to accusations that the legislation pending in Congress would allow the government to deny them care, steal money from their bank accounts and obliterate private insurance.

"You can do whatever the hell you please to do," one angry man yelled at Specter. "One day God's going to stand before you, and he's going to judge you and the rest of your damned cronies up on the Hill. And then you'll get your just desserts."

Obama's top advisers said they have been adjusting their tactics and message to confront the often caustic public debate.

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