I went down to Washington Iowa Saturday morning, to attend a Health Care Reform Town Hall Meeting with our congressional representative Dave Loebsack. I’ve been really happy with how Loebsack has taken on the job of representing our district; before running against Jim Leach, Loeback was a professor at Cornell College. I think he is progressive yet pragmatic; despite being low on the seniority totem pole he’s already done a lot of good work, both on House committees, and in helping constituents.
I had heard before about how conservatives had been packing the Town Halls, but I wasn’t prepared for what I witnessed. Not only did the questions (selected at random) tilt about 3 to 1 against Health Care Reform, whenever one of the questioners made some ridiculous claim about the bill, the room erupted in shouting and applause.
A common theme of the opposition was that they disputed whether Congress has the constitutional authority to legislate Health Care Reform. This is a priori bullshit, but it’s all over the Internet, e.g. here. One gentleman stood up and read several quotes from James Madison, which, if I google brings up this.
Another woman stood up and stumbled through listing things in the health care bill to which she objected, citing ‘page and paragraph.’ Congressional bills are, of course, organized in numbered sections and subsections, because page numbers are arbitrary and subject to change, and she quoted purported synopses, not the text of the legislation. Furthermore the things she said the bill says it doesn’t say at all. She must have found this list on the Internet and printed it out to read at the meeting.
But the absolute pinnacle of the opposition was voiced by a man who claimed to be a minister. He stood up, and after fulminating a bit about the Government taking over health care, he went on to decry recent Hate Crime Legislation, and how he could be charged with a hate crime for preaching against homosexuality. To top it off he said that he was afraid the United States was turning from “the land of the free and home of the brave” to “the land of the queer and home of the slave.” At that point, there was a general uproar in the room, half applause and half boos.
Throughout all this, Rep. Loebsack maintained a friendly and unruffled demeanor, to his credit. He answered all of the misinformation with patient explanations of why the bill he helped write, doesn’t, in fact, allow funding for abortion, ration health care for seniors, or force seniors to face death panels. He explained why he supported a public option. And over and over he pleaded for a respectful dialog, when people in the crowd began shouting.
I was pretty angry by the end of this event, especially with the blue-blazered bullet-head ignoramus sitting in front of me who’d say no and shake his head at everything Loebsack said. I do, however understand a little better where people who oppose the bill are coming from: they see this as a sinister intrusion of the government into their private lives, and they have no faith in the government to do a good job with their health care. The think that people in other countries with single payer health care plans (i.e. almost the entire rest of the industrialized world) get worse health care. They believe that the government will begin funding abortion, even though the Hyde amendment and explicit language in the HR Health Care Reform Act prohibits it.
In short, they don’t trust the government. Now normally, I’d applaud mistrust of the government on principle, especially after living through eight years of Bush and Cheney. Healthy scepticism of government is a good thing — it’s a human institution and subject to human failings. But what makes me crazy about what those people at the Town Hall were saying is that they see the government as something that can never be trusted.
For this there is one person who I think is to blame: that affable old fucktard Ronald Reagan, who said in his first inaugural “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” These people — and every one was of an age to remember Reagan’s time in office well — have taken Reagan’s words to mean that there’s an “Us” the freedom-loving patriots and “Them,” the government, and that “They” are never to be trusted.
They’ve made a fundamental category error with respect to the relationship between citizens and the government in a representative democracy — they think that the only influence they can have over the government is a negative one — if they shout loud enough at their elected representatives, maybe they can keep them from doing any harm. They seem to forget that if they don’t like how government works, they can influence and change how it works.
And in the particular case of Health Care Reform, they’re willing to oppose something that is clearly in their own best interest to support, because they feel like it represents a move towards oppression. Even though there are dozens of counter-examples from around the world, including a country six hours away by car. Even though their health care is already rationed and meddled with by insurance companies. It is true that every country’s health care system has problems, but the fact remains that we in the United States pay the most for our health care and get inferior health outcomes in the bargain. This isn’t subject to debate — it’s a fact.
But facts didn’t seem to matter to the people at the Town Hall meeting. And I honestly don’t know how you have a policy debate with people who insist on believing things that aren’t so.