Open town meetings were supposed to be a forum for open, civil discussion between citizens and their elected representatives. The ‘deathers’, who insist a government run health insurance system could, as IA Senator Charles Grassley says, decide “when to pull the plug on grandma”, have forever changed that.

Many of the town hall protesters are justly concerned about their health care coverage; happy with what they have, concerned about costs and fearful of single payer universal health insurance.

Others just wanted Obama to fail.

The most vocal element may, as Paul Krugman of the New York Times alleges, have racist motives. Cynthia Tucker of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution estimates that “45-65%” of the protesters are motivated by racism.

If racism is the protesters real problem, then health insurance reform is not our only problem.

Democrats accuse Republicans of staging [1] the town hall protests. Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Dick Polman [2] quotes Republican National Campaign Committee Chairman, Pete Sessions as saying “the days of civil town halls are now over”.

If Sessions is serious, we’ve taken a step backwards in the democratic process.

Misguided, obstructionist or greedy, the protesters, the Republicans and the insurance companies have won. The White House appears to have given up [3] on a public insurance option.

In June Obama told Senate Democrats “I strongly believe that Americans should have the choice of a public health insurance option operating alongside private plans. This will give them a better range of choices, make the health care market more competitive, and keep insurance companies honest.”

On August 15, at a Colorado town hall meeting Obama downplayed the public option saying it was “just one sliver of the debate”.

How quickly things change, how quickly Obama folded.