They sound much more like a crowd at a stadium, eager for a touchdown and not caring much whether it's accomplished by a quarterback sneak or a runback of a punt. There's always an element of team ball in politics, and in the past decade polls have shown that those identifying with both parties tend to support with suspicious regularity just about every jot and tittle of their side's platform.
But the netroots seem to have cared more about Iraq than they do about health care. It's plain that the netroots and those millions on the Obama campaign's e-mail lists have not been motivated enough about health care legislation to show up at town hall meetings in any significant numbers -- unless they're transported by union or Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now buses. They may be optimists -- their team has put a lot of points on the scoreboard in recent electoral contests -- but they seem puzzled by how hard it suddenly seems to move the ball.
In contrast, those who are opposed are motivated to show up and express their anger, and in far greater numbers than the hapless Republican Party or the various health insurance companies could ever muster. Many denounce Republicans as well as Democrats -- they're not playing team ball. Rather, they seem focused on the ways that public policy will affect their lives and those dear to them. They seem to be pessimists, but pessimists who are determined to resist what looks like a nightmare.
So the fight is between those who care about the specifics of health care policy and those who care more than anything else -- as many Americans on all political sides do -- about the image and aura of the man who is inevitably the symbol, here and abroad, of the kind of nation we are.
Robert Novak in his half-century of Washington reporting found that the fondest hopes of optimists usually turned out to be unrealistic and that the astringent analysis of pessimists often turned out to be accurate. And, as we are seeing on health care today, though optimists can prevail in a campaign, the pessimists can still affect policy.