Obama: Health Care Critics Creating 'Boogeymen' That 'Aren't Real'

President attempts to clarify his proposals in a town hall in New Hampshire.

August 11, 2009, 7:52 AM

Aug. 11, 2009— -- President Obama lashed out at critics of his proposed health care overhaul and tried to curb fears that the government is planning to take over Americans' health care plans.

Addressing the idea of the so-called "death panels that will basically pull the plug on Grandma because we've decided that ... it's too expensive to let her live anymore," Obama pointed out that it was actually a Republican -- Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga. -- who introduced that provision in the House bill dealing with end of life care.

"The irony is that, actually, one of the chief sponsors of this bill originally was a Republican ... who very sensibly thought this is something that would expand people's options," the president said.

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin used the term in a Facebook posting, saying that it is "downright evil" for her parents and her baby to potentially have to "stand in front of Obama's 'death panel' so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their 'level of productivity in society,' whether they are worthy of health care."

Obama today defended his proposal for a health care panel, saying that it will put the decision in the hands of experts rather than insurance company bureaucrats.

"If we've got a panel of experts -- health experts, doctors -- who can provide guidelines to doctors and patients about what procedures work best in what situation, and find ways to reduce, for example, the number of tests that people take, these aren't going to be forced on people, but they will help guide how the delivery system works, so that you are getting higher quality care," the president said.

In selling his plan, Obama listed off the endorsements he has received from industry groups, but he may have overstated support when he said, "We have the AARP on board" and that "the AARP would not be endorsing a bill if it was undermining Medicare."

The organization refuted that statement, saying that while the organization shares the president's commitment to act this year and wants to work with lawmakers, "indications that we have endorsed any of the major health care reform bills currently under consideration in Congress are inaccurate."

At a town hall meeting in Portsmouth, N.H. -- the first of three this week -- Obama took aim at his critics and those who create "wild misrepresentations that bear no resemblance to anything that's actually been proposed."

"They'll create boogeymen out there that just aren't real," he said to a cheering audience. "So this is an important and complicated issue that deserves serious debate. ... Every time we come close to passing health insurance reform, the special interests fight back with everything they've got. ... This is what they always do."

The president also tried to alleviate Americans' concerns about what his plan entails.

"Under the reform we're proposing, if you like your doctor you can keep your doctor. If you like you health care plan, you can keep your health care plan," the president said. "I don't think government bureaucrats should be meddling, but I also don't think insurance company bureaucrats should be meddling."

Obama's message today was targeted to a slightly different audience than his previous addresses. Instead of talking about the uninsured, the president focused more on what the elderly and the insured would get out of his plan.

While the president's gathering, packed mostly with supporters, was cordial, the scene outside the high school where he spoke was quite different. Hundreds of protestors gathered outside with posters comparing Obama to Hitler, across the street from supporters of the president's plan.

Town hall after town hall, lawmakers are faced with rowdy protesters and angry crowds, ready to fight against the proposals set forward by Democrats and the White House.

In some cases, it has looked less like a discussion about health care reform and more like reform school.

In Pennsylvania today, Democratic Sen. Arlen Specter was bombarded with angry questions from a raucous crowd assailing his party's health care proposal and accusing the former Republican party member of attempting to take over the U.S. health care system.

Explosive War of Words

But the protestors, who have become poster people for discontent, say they are not troublemakers.

"I am not a rabble rouser," said Corey Lewandowski, the New Hampshire director of activist group Americans for Prosperity. "The problem is people become frustrated because they can't get their voices heard."

Some Democrats say these town hall protests are not about health care but, rather, a reflection of Republican frustration at losing power in Washington and the success of the new administration's stimulus and other plans.

"It's just a psychological phenomenon that they're frustrated and their leaders are frustrated," Democratic Strategist James Carville said on "Good Morning America" today. "The protests are not about health care. ... They don't even know what they're talking about."

But conservatives say concerns about health care overhaul are very real and that Americans have a right to voice their opposition.

"What I see as political maneuvering is the complaints about people showing up at town halls -- worried about their entire health care system being revamped -- rather than talk about the health care system, that does have a lot of troubling elements in it," conservative columnist and author Ann Coulter said on "GMA" today.

In a USA Today op-ed Monday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., dubbed the town hall disruptions as "un-American."

"Drowning out opposing views is simply un-American," they wrote. "Drowning out the facts is how we failed at this task for decades."

Debate Over Health Care

The White House distanced itself from those comments, saying that vigorous debate is "part of the American tradition and he [Obama] encourages that," but added that progress is made by talking, not trying to "shout each other down."

Obama's supporters are encouraging like-minded Americans to counter the protestors and trying to explain the details of what his overhaul would entail. On Monday, the Democratic National Committee launched a television campaign highlighting the goals of the reform proposal.

Organizing for America, which supports Obama, sent out an e-mail encouraging supporters to show up at town halls and congressional offices to show support.

"Special interest attack groups are stirring up partisan mobs with lies about health reform, and it's getting ugly," the e-mail read. "Across the country, members of Congress who support reform are being shouted down, physically assaulted, hung in effigy, and receiving death threats. We can't let extremists hijack this debate, or confuse Congress about where the people stand."

More and more of such supporters are showing up to public events.

"They do have the right to protest, this is America, they have the right to protest," one Obama supporter told ABC News. "They do not have the right to disrupt."

As for the president, he continued to express optimism that his agenda will pass through Congress, and said yesterday that "the American people will be glad we acted to change an unsustainable system."

"I suspect that once we get into the fall and people look at the actual legislation that's being proposed, that more sensible and reasoned arguments will emerge. And we're going to get this passed," he said at a news conference in Guadalajara, Mexico, following a summit with Canadian and Mexican leaders.

Obama's town hall meeting today comes amid increasingly sharp rhetoric by the likes of Palin and conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh.

Some Democrats say they fear for their lives amid hostile rhetoric. Rep. Dennis Moore, D-Kansas, told ABC radio affiliate KMBZ he cancelled some health care town halls because he received two death threats.

"I'm kind of disinclined to hold town hall meetings if people are going to be angry and belligerent," he said. "If people are going to be civil and respectful, I'm all for having those conversations. But public safety has to be a concern."

The White House, for its part, is on a mission to clarify what it calls "disinformation," with Web casts and blogs addressing criticism.

ABC News' Rachel Martin contributed to this report.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events