This can be boiled down into a very short analysis. The other side has emotion on their side, while Democrats sound clinically professorial. You cannot win any political campaign without connecting to people's emotions. Americans split pretty evenly, so whoever taps into these emotions will win.
In the video, Kathleen Sebelius clearly gets out messaged by the organized mob. Question is, why was she so ill prepared and does it really matter if the screaming hecklers are paid activists and lobbyists when the administration and Democrats clearly have no plan to confront them? Besides, if Democrats and progressives succeed in casting hecklers as paid shills, there goes the opportunity to nail them for what they really are, extremists, a much more damaging label.
The White House (and Democrats) need to approach the town halls as if they are primary caucuses, something that candidate Barack Obama knows how to work very well. Because it's obviously war out there. Some are doing just that.
Gibbs seemed to be getting what's going on today when he referred to the extremists by calling them the "Brooks Brothers Brigade". Obviously referring to the wild-eyed wingnuts who caused such a stir down in Florida during the 2000 recount.
Marc Ambinder is among the growing number of people putting the Dems in the spotlight:
The more troublesome question for Democratic strategists is why the major Democratic groups, including Organizing for America, the labor unions, Health Care for America Now, seem to be flatfooted and unable to match the much smaller conservative organizing capacity in these critical districts. One answer is that the media pays attention to the loudest voices, which are coming from the right. The other is that organizing around major -- even popular -- reforms of existing institutions is tough. The Democrats don't have a single bill right now, and the elite left is worried about what's not in the cards -- a public plan -- and is therefore fairly unenthusiastic. If the liberal elite isn't enthusiastic, the liberal base -- less knowledgeable -- will be as well.
Hopefully the Brooks Brothers Brigade labeling will stick and cascade across the media.
The thing that's alarming is that when I analyze this I come to the uncomfortable conclusion that it really doesn't matter whether the right has well financed, well organized mobs, including insurance shills, showing up for Democratic town halls. It's still a whole lot of angry partisans who believe what they're shouting getting the attention, while Democrats look positively lame when responding.
Your average American isn't paying full attention and only tunes in to hear the shouts and see the outrage; given the economic state of most people's lives, it's not a far jump to bet the viewer agrees with the rabble.
That's why focusing on describing the angry mobs showing up at town halls is in the end pretty worthless. Details seldom matter in these types of campaigns. Take the Swiftboat Veterans for Truth, who were a bunch of partisan liars out to impugn the integrity of a Democratic veteran. The details didn't matter; they simply tapped into doubts already there and funneled emotion through them.
What's important is the offense Democratic legislators are offering at the top of their town hall, not the description of whom they're facing. So even though Brooks Brothers Brigade is good, very good, it doesn't hit the emotion button like the angry mob is doing. One person, in an email to me, suggested every single legislator bring an "average American" who has a health care horror story to tell to the town hall and have him/her tell their tale. Bring two! Hearing heartbreaking real life stories hits that emotion button critical in these types of campaigns. Besides, it's much harder to yell at a health care victim than it is a politician.
Unfortunately, right now there is no such plan in motion, with the passion mostly on the organized mob side. So that's where the cameras will be focused, even if we succeed in labeling them, which has already become a problem as talk radio brings on listener after listener exclaiming, "We are too grass roots!"
There goes the Brooks Brothers Brigade. Then what? So far, Democrats have no answers.