Sunday, August 23

Dining Room Tables, Democracy, and Health Care Reform

Unless you have been comatose, no doubt you have heard about Massachusett's Congressman Barney Frank's retorts to a woman at one of his townhall meetings about health care reform. The woman, who was holding a sign that was doctored to depict President Obama as Hitler, asked "Why do you continue to support a Nazi policy as Obama has expressly supported this policy? Why are you supporting it?" He said, "When you ask me that question? I am going to revert to my ethnic heritage and answer your question with a question. On what planet do you spend most of your time?" After being momentarily stopped, the woman continued her line of questioning and the Congressman, in sincerity said, "Ma'am, trying to have a conversation with you would be like trying to argue with a dining room table. I have no interest in doing it."

And it is a shame when two people, whether it is a Congressman or a constituent, resort to belittling. It is more so a shame when there is no real dialogue going on.

The town hall meeting in Iowa City this Saturday was not nearly vitriolic, but there were a number of people who were clearly not there to listen, but to engage in political theater. Two rows in front of me were two men, one sporting an American flag ball cap and the other wearing a union t-shirt, who engaged each other. The fellow in the ball was booing 2nd District Congressman Dave Loebsack's response to a question asked by an audience member and the fellow in the union t-shirt asked him to keep it down. The other fellow glared red-faced at the union fellow and asked him if he was going to make him. Fortunately a Loebsack staffer walked toward them and they settled into an uneasy truce.

For those who were there to listen and learn, it was no doubt troubling to them to watch normally civil people get bent out of shape over health care reform that may or may not happen and certainly will change as the kinks are worked out. How can anyone know what the plan is unless they actually have read it (and at the size of a phone book, that's not an easy read) or if they come to the townhall meeting to get the synopsis and have the chance to have their questions answered? Congressman Loebsack was quite willing to address questions, but also was encouraging of people to preface their questions with their feelings--an invitation that would be taken advantage of throughout the hour plus meeting.

While Congressmen and Senators are trying to do their jobs to help their constituents to understand what the bill actually is, it does not help that some on both sides resort to out and out lies about what the House bill is about. The Senate will have to forward its own bill (which will likely have its own problems for those who are fighting for or against a public option) and the two houses will have to recouncil the two bills before it goes to the President. If anybody should be pounding the pavement to try to hear what concerns their constituents, it is the Senators and they should not be making pronouncements about "Grandma" and her state of being. They should be genuinely having dining room table conversations about what it is that is scaring their constituents about their health care and then take this back to Washington to write legislation around.

Perhaps if the theater could be scaled back and real people's concerns could be addressed, we could end up with health care reform that is healthy.

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