Health Care Demonstrations Providing Fire, Little Light

August 09, 2009|By JEAN MARBELLA

Now here are some people who could use a nice cold beer with the president.

But somehow, I think all you'd end up with are people who are still mad but now have a bit of a beer buzz going. People who already are acting crazy don't need help losing any more of their inhibition.

I've been watching footage of the town hall follies play out across the country as congressional representatives on summer recess head home to their constituents, some of whom apparently do not like President Barack Obama's push for health care reform. At all.

No, it is tyranny. Or socialism. Definitely un-American, and possibly - cover the children's ears! - Canadian.

Who knew health care reform, three words previously guaranteed to make most people's eyes glaze over, was this exciting, this YouTube-able? Who knew it is so fascinating a subject that it prompts so many people to storm libraries, school auditoriums and other meeting places for a chance to yell about it?

In truth, it's not. The only reason these town halls on health care reform have been so lively is because they're about everything but health care reform.

They're about being heard, even as you're shouting down anyone else's chance of being heard. They're not about policy issues but political grievances. They're not about debating the issue but hurling insults.

They're the sequel to this spring's tea party tax protests, an event that just begged for a return of that "Saturday Night Live" character, Linda Richman, to intone, "The tea party tax protests: They're neither about tea nor taxes. Discuss."

Can we just cut to the chase already? This is about people who are unhappy with the results of the November election.

That's fine - in every election, someone loses, and no one has to pretend to be happy about it. But to pretend that you're really on some high-minded crusade, that you're fighting socialism or fascism or even Nazism, or standing up for freedom or patriotism, or - my personal favorite - taking back America, is simply dishonest.

Taking back America from whom? The majority of Americans who voted for Obama, in one of the clearest majorities in the past several presidential election cycles?

The thing is, there is much about health care that should be discussed, dissected and, yes, fought over. Something that consumes a whopping one-sixth of our economy is, by any definition, a major issue. But this isn't happening, at least not at the town hall meetings that have devolved into political theater.

Maryland's 1st District congressman, Frank Kratovil, has come under particular fire as a freshman Democrat in a Republican-leaning area and thus vulnerable in next year's election. Kratovil, who already had been hung in effigy during an earlier protest, got more abuse last week at events such as one in Mardela Springs where people yelled things like "Our freedom is being taken from us!" and jeered him throughout the meeting and as he walked to his car, according to an ABC News account.

It was much the same elsewhere - although, as usual, Florida seems to be winning the anger stakes. Having lived in that sunny but quick-to-burn state, I can't say I'm surprised. No matter how patiently you wait your turn to, say, order at a deli counter there, someone will invariably poke a finger in your chest and accuse you of butting in front of them.

So the video and photos from an Ybor City town hall meeting last week seemed quite familiar, down to the incensed lady shoving a man who was arguing with her husband and police having to shut the doors to keep people from squeezing into the already full room. You'd have thought some restaurant ran out of rolls halfway through the early bird specials.

But we are all Floridians now.

At these bastardizations of the democratic town hall tradition, actual give-and-take has been at a premium and misinformation rampant. There actually was a man in South Carolina who told his congressman to "keep your government hands off my Medicare."

Not everyone who opposes health care reform is that ill-informed. And yet some of the stuff protesters are throwing out there is just wrong, such as the notion that health care reform would push euthanasia on the elderly - which, according to the University of Pennsylvania's, apparently stems from a provision in the House bill that would require Medicare to cover counseling sessions on end-of-life options, such as living wills and hospice care.

Nothing about requiring anyone to off themselves if they got to be too expensive to care for, nothing even about forcing you to have this conversation, only that such counseling by a health care professional should be made available and that Medicare should cover it. And yet you get people like one screamer at a forum on Thursday in Romulus, Mich., saying, as the Detroit Free Press reported, "You may be dead in five years. They may euthanize you."

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