The Crazy Season

12/05/2009 11:01 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The end game of any major legislative fight such as what we're going through on health care -- when the final deals are being cut on the inside, and the rumors are flying around like starlings -- is what I call the crazy season. It's a time that's generally very maddening for all the grassroots activists who have been working on the legislation like crazy, because it really is tough to figure out what is true and what is not. Here are some general rules that hopefully help you understand this season a little bit more:

  1. There are probably a hundred rumors a day. 90 of them are just flat out false, spread either because someone misunderstood something, or someone is trying to promote some pet project or kill something, or just because rumors spread on Capitol Hill for no particular reason at all. Maybe nine of them have a seed of truth, but the seed is cross-fertilized with a lot of, well, fertilizer. One of them is probably pretty close to true, but you never know which one it is, and it may well not be true the next day.

  • Don't base any of your assumptions on the words being used. Certain words are code for other things, and politicians are also looking to cover their political bases or even (I know its shocking that there is gambling in this casino) misdirect people from their true intent. In this health care crazy season, I have seen "public options" that don't look anything like a real public option, "triggers" that look a lot more like a decent public option, Stupak "compromises" that are worse than Stupak, and "Stupak language" that is actually an okay compromise. When people hear certain buzz words, don't assume anything because the actual legislative language might be something very different.
  • Don't assume any deal is ever done. Everything -- every single thing -- remains up in the air. The best way to get to a compromise on one important thing may be to change the language on something else in the bill entirely different.
  • Keep an eye on the fig leafs. A lot of people on every side of this bill have walked a long way out on rhetorical planks over the course of this debate. In order to get a bill passed, at least some of them are going to have to find a politically acceptable way to walk themselves back. The key is to watch who is walking themselves back via a fig leaf compromise, and who is getting most of the substance they wanted.
  • Don't assume that anything in either the Senate or House bill is in there for good. Some things are inserted into bills specifically to be traded away at conference committee time.  
  • Don't panic over anything, just keep organizing for what you want. A lot of groups are doing list building right now, seizing on real or imagined rumors to try to panic people into signing petitions or giving money. Most of these panic attacks are phony. My advice to activists out there is to just keep working hard on grassroots organizing around the issues you care the most about, and not worry too much over the panic attacks.
  • I know it is frustrating trying to follow what's going on with a debate like health care. There are tons of movable parts, and the traditional media gets a lot of things wrong. The good news is that millions of activists keep fighting to make this a strong bill, and that we still have a good shot at getting that done.