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Will going negative on healthcare doom Republicans in 2010? Catering to tea party activists could backfire

March 22, 2010 |  8:45 am

House Republicans incite anti-health care protestors with signs from balcony of US Capitol saying Kill the Bill
 
Now it gets ugly. Not that it wasn't before.

During 14 months of partisan smearing, the main Republican strategy was to demonize President Obama and his healthcare reform. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin accused Obama of wanting to convene death panels to kill Granny. Tea party activists disrupted with such a din of anger that North Carolina Democrat Brad Miller reported a death threat.

The vitriol continued over the weekend. Bands of angry conservatives parked themselves outside the Capitol. When Georgia Democrat John Lewis walked to work Saturday, they hurled racial epithets. This is John Lewis, a veteran of the Selma-to-Montgomery civil-rights marches, beaten by sheriffs so savagely that his head wounds are still visible. This upset House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whose skillful shepherding of the  bill through the House puts her in company with Tip O'Neill and LBJ. So the next day, she walked to the Capitol arm in arm with Lewis and other Democrats. Little appeased, the conservative mob shouted, "You communists! You socialists! You hate America!"

Is this really the crowd that Republicans want to line up with? Apparently.

During Sunday's vote, Republican members of the House went to the balcony of the Speaker's Lounge -- generally only occupied by the smokers she has banished from the building -- to incite the crowd with signs that said, "Kill the bill."

Going negative rarely wins elections. Just ask Ronald Reagan, a Republican icon who won a landslide victory for president in 1984 with the sunny slogan, "It's Morning Again in America."

Massachusetts Democrat Barney Frank, who had anti-gay slurs hurled at him by protesters, warned that Republicans were whipping up hysteria."It is almost like the Salem witch trials,” he said.  “The health bill has become their witch."

Hysteria may whip up the base, and turnout -- which side gets their voters to the polls in greater numbers -- could be key in the midterm elections. But lining up with hysterics -- one Republican shouted "baby killer" at Michigan Democrat Bart Stupak during debate -- could make Republicans more than just the Party of No. It could make them the Party of Anarchy, the kind who shout 'Fire' in a crowded theater.

-- Johanna Neuman

Photo: House Republicans incite protesters angry about healthcare reform from the balcony of the U.S. Capitol. Credit: Getty Images

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