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The light bulb went off in my head today reading NY Times columnist Paul Krugman's description of health reform protests--would these folks want to give up their Medicare coverage? If not, the anger is about something else. And guess which industry is driving the fury:

There was a telling incident at a town hall held by Representative Gene Green, D-Tex. An activist turned to his fellow attendees and asked if they "oppose any form of socialized or government-run health care." Nearly all did. Then Representative Green asked how many of those present were on Medicare. Almost half raised their hands.

Now, people who don't know that Medicare is a government program probably aren't reacting to what President Obama is actually proposing. They may believe some of the disinformation opponents of health care reform are spreading, like the claim that the Obama plan will lead to euthanasia for the elderly. (That particular claim is coming straight from House Republican leaders.) But they're probably reacting less to what Mr. Obama is doing, or even to what they've heard about what he's doing, than to who he is.

That is, the driving force behind the town hall mobs is probably the same cultural and racial anxiety that's behind the "birther" movement, which denies Mr. Obama's citizenship. Senator Dick Durbin has suggested that the birthers and the health care protesters are one and the same; we don't know how many of the protesters are birthers, but it wouldn't be surprising if it's a substantial fraction.

And cynical political operators are exploiting that anxiety to further the economic interests of their backers.

Krugman also points at two of those political operators:

Key organizers include two Astroturf (fake grass-roots) organizations: FreedomWorks, run by the former House majority leader Dick Armey, and a new organization called Conservatives for Patients' Rights.

The latter group, by the way, is run by Rick Scott, the former head of Columbia/HCA, a for-profit hospital chain. Mr. Scott was forced out of that job amid a fraud investigation; the company eventually pleaded guilty to charges of overbilling state and federal health plans, paying $1.7 billion - yes, that's "billion" - in fines. You can't make this stuff up.

I don't want to go all the way with Krugman, to the conclusion that the weird protests over health reform also stem from a racially tinged fury that is being fanned by cynical lobbyists and the hard right. But it makes even less sense that ordinary Americans are somehow desperate to defend the health insurance industry that abuses its customers and leaves millions of people out in the cold.