In Today's Health-Care Debate, Reputations Will Be Won and Lost

Many media analysts say that today’s summit is all about the President gaming the healthcare debate. In fact, there is a much more interesting story at hand: The impact on the American conservative class—and its impact on legislators.

This “Healthcare Summit” is the first and most visible litmus test of conservative leadership in Washington. Simply: After the elections in New Jersey, Virginia and Massachusetts, conservatives are watching to see what kind of people they have sitting opposite the President.

For half a century, conservative voters sent their representatives to Washington, only to watch many of them bow and retreat before their liberal counterparts. This was due, in part, to a monopoly of the press by the left, which allowed every debate to be defined by their terms.

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Still, the result was that conservatives felt betrayed and insulted. Either they had voted for a person who thought that the people who elected them couldn’t understood (or learn) the issues at hand, or they had elected a person who was so weak they couldn’t or wouldn’t formulate an argument to defend their principles.

Those days are gone. Conservative voters are turning the tables. What remains to be seen today is how “conservative” legislators respond to their conservative voter base.

In less than a generation, the information age and the new media landscape has changed, and conservative voters are armed, informed, articulate and engaged. Watching their elected representatives genuflect, compromise and surrender under the guise of “civility” grows less appealing by the day.

For a century, when the political left took a swing, the typical response on the right was “…what did I do wrong?”

Not anymore. The South Sider from Chicago has given rise to an unapologetic conservative movement that is ready to swing back, confident in telling their representatives that fighting for your values is more important than being liked.

Which brings us back to the Healthcare Summit, and what’s making it interesting:

Specifically, it is not about the President. People know his shtick. What people don’t know is what conservatism will look like there: The old milquetoast mush-mouths, or conservatives with bone, sinew and spine, ready for a fight.

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This “summit” is an open door for conservatives to spotlight the differences between the nanny state and the free market. History and experience show that conservatives hold the winning hand, seen for example, in the gap between the successful HSA program and the failure of state-run options found in Tennessee and Massachusetts.

Yes—it’s political theater, and as such it will be judged far more on style than on content. That is why conservatives want their players to show up with their best lines, well rehearsed, and delivered with strength, confidence and passion.

Voters will be watching for conservative leaders want to get into the fight—not avoid it.

Those who do, will get their support. Those who don’t will be suspect.

How can one tell? What is the litmus test?

For a century, the left has known that the proper question can both frame and overpower any response in a debate. The classic is: “If elected, will you promise to stop beating your wife?” The question itself frames the whole debate, and neuters the opposition.

This is a tool that can be used by anyone—and conservatives are now catching on.

Here are a few questions that conservatives would like put to the President:

Question: Mr. President, the people in my district are sick of losing their jobs! Why are we having a health care summit when we have more people out of work than ever before in history?

Question: Mr. President, there are over a dozen doctors in the House and Senate. Why are we having a health care summit without doctors? What kind of message do you think that sends to the American People?

Question: Mr. President, considering the failure of FEMA, AMTRACK, TSA, Freddie and Fannie and other government agencies, what makes you think that the American people want the federal government to run health care?

Question: Mr. President, your bill promises to cut billions out of Medicare fraud and abuse, yet in the year that you have been in office, you have failed to cut any fraud and abuse. If you haven’t done it yet, what makes the American people think you will do it later?

Question: Mr. President, you have frightened and confused all the people on Medicare in my district. Why have you singled out the weak, the elderly and the infirm for cuts in benefits that they were promised and have paid for all their lives?

Question: Mr. President, we could purchase private insurance for every single uninsured person in America for about 60 billion dollars. So why would you think the American people want to spend twice that on a government-run plan?

Conservatives across America expect civility. But they also expect that their representatives stand tall, and clearly represent their values and beliefs. It will be the conservative’s questions, not the answers that will frame the debate. Those with the courage to re-frame the debate the President, in a public forum, will reap supporters near and far.

Those who don’t….

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