09/14/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Five Opponents of Health Care Reform

In the midst of angry protests, offensive placards, and ridiculous conservative talking points, it's hard not to wonder what, exactly, motivates opponents of health care reform.

After all, improving the fundamentally flawed system would have broad benefits for all Americans. Some of Rush Limbaugh's listeners are one serious illness away from bankruptcy. Some Sarah Palin supporters can't get coverage because of a pre-existing condition. Some Glenn Beck viewers will see their insurance companies drop them when they need their coverage most. Some RNC donors may want to start their own business, but can't because they can't afford to pay the monthly premiums. Some of the same people who attended "Tea Parties" in April saw their family coverage disappear after they lost their job.

Across the country, untold thousands wait in seemingly-endless lines in the hopes of seeing a physician at a free clinic. And some of those thousands may very well be Republicans.

It's too often overlooked, but there's nothing partisan or ideological about this -- everyone is getting screwed by the status quo. We're all paying too much for too little. A huge chunk of the country is uninsured, underinsured, or uninsurable, and the system is blind to how you voted in the last election.

With this in mind, the far-right apoplexy is counter-intuitive. Why would people who stand to benefit from health care reform literally take to the streets and threaten violence in opposition to legislation that would help them and their families? President Obama supports an approach to health care reform that emphasizes competition and choice, doesn't increase the deficit, and wouldn't raise middle class taxes ... and conservatives are comparing the plan to the Nazi Holocaust?

To fully appreciate the larger dynamic, it's important not to lump all opponents of reform together into one large group. We've heard many of the same arguments from a wide variety of activists, but different groups are fighting with different motivations.

I tend to see them in five distinct factions:

* The Greedy: There's a fairly small group of people who profit handsomely from the broken status quo. Regular Americans are getting screwed by the system, but The Greedy are getting rich. Reform puts their profits at risk, so they're fighting back to protect their livelihood.

* The Partisans: If President Obama does what many presidents have failed trying to do, it will likely make him more popular and make his presidency successful. The Partisans care more about Republican gains than the national well being, so they're fighting to prevent a major Democratic victory because it would be a major Democratic victory. For an example, consider Bill Kristol's infamous admonition to Republican leaders.

* The Tin-Foil Hats: If reform passes, the government will kill their grandparents, create "death panels," lavish benefits on illegal immigrants, and mandate that ACORN volunteers live in their basement. The Tin-Foil Hats have active imaginations, and believe their own ridiculous conspiracy theories. They're likely to benefit from reform, but the voices in their head discourage them from believing it.

* The Dupes: Probably the largest group in opposition to reform, The Dupes tend to believe what The Greedy, The Partisans, and The Tin-Foil Hats have told them. When confronted with accurate information, The Dupes suspect the media, Democrats, and their lying eyes aren't to be trusted. After all, Sean Hannity wouldn't lie to them, would he? Like The Tin-Foil Hats, The Dupes stand to benefit from reform, but are skeptical because they don't know who's telling the truth and who isn't.

* The Wonks: The smallest of the groups, The Wonks are conservatives who actually care about substantive policy details, have read the proposals, and believe there are better ways to improve the system. They're looking for a meaningful policy debate, and are slightly embarrassed by their allies' dishonest temper tantrums, but The Greedy, The Partisans, The Tin-Foil Hats, and The Dupes have decided to ignore The Wonks. They don't scream at town-hall meetings and they don't show up for 9/12 strategy sessions.

The Wonks notwithstanding, the first four groups combine to make a force to be reckoned with, and the various teams feed off of one another nicely. The Greedy aren't a big enough group to disrupt a town-hall meeting, but if they can feed some ideas to The Tin-Foil Hats, they can get a lot done. The Partisans can't come right out and acknowledge their concerns, but if they can rope in The Dupes, their combined efforts can make a considerable difference.

A reader emailed me recently, saying, "I don't understand why the wingnuts are so angry." My suspicion is they're angry for different reasons, many of which will fade if/when Democratic policymakers manage to do the right thing.