He knows his no vote on health care reform disappointed a lot of people, folks who thought he was on their team, U.S. Rep. John Barrow said Friday at a quietly held meeting at Democratic Party headquarters in downtown Augusta.
But a big problem with America, he said, is that complicated issues get whittled down to matters of us against them, such as the "you're either for us or against us" stance of President George W. Bush.
"There is no subject we're going to deal with that's more complicated than this one," Barrow said, "and if we can't understand differences of opinion and respect a certain amount of dissent when it's the most complicated, how can we do it on stuff that's simple?"
Explaining himself to the 25 people in attendance, the 12th District congressman made both liberal and conservative arguments against the bill. He supports health care reform, he said, but the legislation passed last month isn't economically sustainable, and it will hurt Medicaid recipients because states' funding shares will be uneven.
"Feeding more people into the system without fixing it is going to break the system," Barrow said. "This is going to be short-term gains in the things we as Democrats care about -- helping people who need help."
Local party Chairman Lowell Greenbaum told him that by opposing a reform so vital to President Obama's political career, he might have endangered his own. Former Augusta mayoral candidate William "Gil" Gilyard asked Barrow why, if Obama can accept compromises, he couldn't.
"You're off with the other guys," Gilyard said, "and we need to send you off with them."
Barrow is up for re-election this year -- in the primary facing Regina Thomas of Savannah, whom he handily defeated in 2008, and the winner of the Republican primary in the general election. Sixty percent of the primary voters are expected to be black, and Barrow has likely angered a lot of them, University of Georgia political science professor Charles Bullock said.
His health care position, however, was likely a matter of political shrewdness, he said. It's difficult to beat an incumbent in the primaries, and so far no candidate has emerged who could rally the black vote against him.
Once Barrow gets past that stage, Bullock said, there will be no galvanized Republican movement to unseat him.
Several Democrats have been using a two-week recess to tour their districts and explain their health care votes. Friday's meeting, Barrow's fourth stop after Crawfordville, Sparta and Milledgeville, wasn't publicly announced. Greenbaum said he didn't want the general public invited because Tea Party activists might show up.
Barrow's office also didn't send out a notice, even though his staff typically e-mails a steady stream of news releases about his district appearances and positions on issues.
Afterward, Barrow spoke casually with attendees, but when a reporter approached him, he rushed to his car. Refusing an interview, he said he's taken plenty of questions and talked to the press enough.