August 25th, 2009
10:39 AM ET

Democracy can be messy

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/POLITICS/08/11/specter.town.hall/art.spector.twn.hall.cnn.jpg caption="Sen. Arlen Specter, left, answers questions Tuesday during a forum in Lebanon, Pennsylvania."]

Dave Schechter
CNN Senior National Editor

If we have learned – or been reminded – of one thing during the debate over health care reform it is this: Democracy can be messy, noisy, loud, raucous, rude and crude, barely resembling the stereotype of the civilized New England village town hall as depicted in Norman Rockwell’s painting titled “Freedom of Speech.”

Of course, as Winston Churchill so famously offered: “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.”

One of the guys in the often-entertaining “Barbershop” segment on National Public Radio’s “Tell Me More” program found a visual metaphor for some of the town hall gatherings in the 1999 film “Fight Club.”

Given the apathy the American people display on so many issues that may not be an entirely bad thing, though.

Remember the line in Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address about a “government of the people, by the people, for the people”?

Well, a lot of people turning up at these town hall meetings feel that they have no say in how they’re governed. (Given the abysmal rate of turnout for elections in this country, maybe a Congressman will refuse to take questions from people who didn’t vote.) This is their chance to tell the “hired help” in Washington how they feel, to look that person in the eye and have some version of a conversation.

“Whether these crowds are representative of America is one question perhaps best answered by polls. But they are certainly representative of a particular slice of America, a group of Americans who, justified or not, are distraught by the country's direction, are distrustful of the Obama administration, and see themselves losing control over their lives and being forced to cede that control to the federal government,” Kent Garber observed in U.S. News & World Report.

“The recession, their comments suggest, is partly responsible for the intensity of their emotions. The evaporation of money has created a feeling, voiced repeatedly at this meeting, that the code by which many Americans live—work hard, get ahead—is not respected by Washington, which they see as spending wastefully.”

Peggy Noonan suggested in The Wall Street Journal that the complicated language in the health care legislation is an important factor. “And when normal people don't know what the words mean, they don't say to themselves, "I may not understand, but my trusty government surely does, and will treat me and mine with respect." They think, "I can't get what these people are talking about. They must be trying to get one past me. So I'll vote no,”" Noonan wrote.

There have been other occasions when public debate was heated.

Consider Leonard Zeskind’s column titled “On health care hearings, a little perspective, please.”

“Let's begin with the "the screamers are so uncivil they are ruining the chance for a public discussion" thesis. It does not take all that much memory to recall the time when Democratic and Republican politicians supporting the Vietnam War were met with just the kind of loud and impolite behavior we see in these town halls meetings today. In fact, the Vietnam War protests were more raucous. While the political differences between war protestors and health care opponents are real, telling people to sit down and shut up and talk to each other like they were in a schoolhouse library did not have any effect back then. And we should not expect such imprecations to "civility" to have any effect now. In fact, such calls for calm are more than likely to have the opposite effect,” Zeskind wrote.

Daniel Rodriguez had this caution for supporters of President Obama’s proposals in a Los Angeles Times column: “Don't get too outraged, those of you who are looking down your noses at those unreasonable, misinformed anti-healthcare-reform town hallers. No matter what particular clan, tribe or party you belong to, you can't really disown them any more than you can your own grandmother. You may not agree with them, but their brand of hotheaded, self-righteous, obnoxious, stick-it-to-the-manism is as American as apple pie.”

Oh, by the way, if you think the health care bill is controversial and hefty at 1,000-plus pages, wait until the climate change legislation passed by the House comes up for Senate consideration. That bill, H.R. 2454 checks in at more than 1,400 pages. And if you think there has been heat over health care reform, just think about what’s coming on a bill whose stated purpose is “To create clean energy jobs, achieve energy independence, reduce global warming pollution and transition to a clean energy economy.” It’s been simmering on a back burner but take my word, this one’s going to boil over.

Filed under: David Schechter • Health Care • Raw Politics
soundoff (11 Responses)
  1. RLWellman

    Health Care is a right, you can buy it any time you want. You are not told what you have to buy. You are allowed to get what ever you can afford. You can go to the hospital any time you want.

    The problem starts, when you think it is your right to have the the rest of us pay for you.

    August 26, 2009 at 9:57 am |
  2. tracey nelms accused terrorist


    I am terrified, -not a terrorist! Please help me! I give you permission to contact Marci Kelly, one of my only best friends for any information regarding me, and the children's books I have written to show you I am stable, rational and not guilty of whATREVER these people say I am guilty of -360 degrees is a full circle that I have come on this journey; I am not so different from you,- I want the truth, always. I, like yourself, am not a human being having a spiritual experience, but rather a spiritual being having a human experience, as someone once aptly said.
    Marci Kelly (520) 909-9321
    Pima Community College Curriculum Co-ordinator

    This is a wide, far-reaching PH.D. no-gooders trying to discredit me, the F.B.I. was als

    August 26, 2009 at 2:21 am |
  3. lampe

    Susan: Finally someone who understands the staate by state regulations.

    August 25, 2009 at 7:48 pm |
  4. Susan Desgrousilliers

    Your insurance goes up because of State mandated items which they impose on the insurance companies. For instance, if California decides that insurance companies should cover invetro fertalization, which is extremely costly, then it makes the insurance companies in California cover them, which means my insurance rates go up so that someone else can have that benefit covered. The insurance companies are regulated on a state by state basis, and the states tell the insurance providers what they "have" to cover. So although the obama administration would have you believe the insurance companies are raising our premiums so they can get fat salaries, it just is not true. We should reform the system to get government out of the insurance business, not have more regulation. If the insurance agencies were allowed to compete, and offer different packages to meet individual needs it would drive down the cost of insurance. Having the Federal government manage it is a recipe for failure, just look at social security, medical, and medicaid.

    August 25, 2009 at 4:55 pm |
  5. Jennifer

    "...If by a liberal they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the people–their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights, their civil liberties... If that is what they mean by a 'liberal' then I am proud to be a liberal." -John F. Kennedy

    Let's all go back to elementary school and learn about constructive criticism. Our health care system is obviously not working the way it is now. Instead of yelling about the new ideas being bad, try coming up with something that is good, and give those ideas to your local elected officials. Health care is not a privilege, it is a right. We all deserve to see a doctor at least once a year, to get the tests and medicines we need to stay healthy, and to go to the hospital when we feel it is necessary.

    August 25, 2009 at 2:54 pm |
  6. mary jenkins

    Please invite T. R Reid on your program to discuss his new book THE HEALING OF AMERICA – a study of health care around the world.
    This subject is not covered in depth and that is why the American public is so uninformed Thank you.

    August 25, 2009 at 12:26 pm |
  7. JC- Los Angeles

    Judging from the deplorable state of our once proud nation, it's almost impossible to find a post 9/11 corporate or political decision that proved to be sound.

    While Alan Greenspan's fire sale of cheap money may have created opportunities, unfortunately, all the decisions that followed proved short sighted.

    In our morally bankrupt, culturally corrupt, instant gratification, gluttonous consuption society, it's as if flawed logic, bad business plans and vacant leadership have become the norm.

    Whether real or contrived, it's refreshing now to see Americans standing up for what they believe in rather than sitting back and getting duped again and again and again.

    August 25, 2009 at 12:25 pm |
  8. Susan Desgrousilliers

    Here are just 5 of the big whoppers.

    Lie #1: 'You Keep Your Doctor, You Keep Your Insurer'

    This is a complete fabrication.

    Under plans Obama has backed in the House and the Senate, almost any business can opt their employees into the "public option" — the government health plan.

    That means you could lose your insurer. And if your doctor is worth his salt, you'll lose him or her as well.

    Why? Because great doctors probably will not want to get the very low rates the government will pay private doctors who are part of the new government system.

    So, without your consent, you very easily could lose your insurer and your doctor. Also, if you change jobs, you cannot join the new company's plan even if they offered one, you automatically have to go with the Government plan. In addition, companies who do offer their employees a good health plan will be taxed on it depending on the company revenues, up to 8%. So, what major corporation or small business can afford more taxes? And, just ask your Washington representatives, Nancy, Harry, Chris, if they are signing up for Obamacare, the answer is "NO". So if this healthcare is so great, how is it they don't want it?

    Lie #2: The Elderly Will Not Face Rationing or Medicare Cuts

    More baloney.

    In fact, just last week, The New York Times, a very liberal and very pro-Obama newspaper, admitted that fears of rationing for elderly patients are "not irrational."

    The truth is that Obamacare would almost 50 million new patients to government care.

    Who would pay for it. You would!

    Seniors on Medicare will be the first hit.

    Here's what the Times reported: "Bills now in Congress would squeeze savings out of Medicare, a lifeline for the elderly, on the assumption that doctors and hospitals can be more efficient."

    This means that faceless bureaucrats will decide the type and quality of your care.

    It is a very dangerous thing to give your life and well-being over to government bureaucrats!

    Imagine if you or a loved one is older than 80 years and critically needs heart surgery.

    Instead of getting the heart procedure, you or that loved one could be informed that you are simply too old.

    We at the League of American Voters have been warning of this danger and have a powerful TV commercial exposing the risks to seniors.

    Lie #3: There Will Be No "Death Panels."

    More lies.

    Sure, they don't call them "death panels" in the legislation, but that's what their job will be.

    These committee members will set guidelines with which faceless bureaucrats will make decisions about you and your healthcare.

    They will decide who lives and who dies. They decide who gets critical procedures and expensive medicines.

    Again, according to the New York Times, the Democratic plans call for saving money by creating new oversight committees.

    The Times says that Medicare and insurers would be expected to follow "advice from a new federal panel of medical experts on 'what treatments work best.'”

    Again, this very liberal paper concluded: "The zeal for cutting health costs, combined with proposals to compare the effectiveness of various treatments and to counsel seniors on end-of-life care, may explain why some people think the legislation is about rationing, which could affect access to the most expensive services in the final months of life."

    Lie #4: The Obama Plan Contains Costs

    Absolute nonsense.

    The Obama plan will cost more than $1 trillion in new federal outlays, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

    This past weekend, Sen. Joe Lieberman claimed that most of this cost comes from adding 50 million people, currently uninsured, to the government health system.

    But as Lieberman pointed out, we just don't have the money to do this right now.

    You can add only so many people to the government system by cutting medical care to seniors on Medicare and raising taxes.

    Democrats clearly plan to do both. President Obama said in an interview recently that 80% of healthcare cost are associated with the elderly. Any costly on going treatment used to keep someone of an advanced age alive should be discussed with doctors, family members, and the appointed Government Panel and make a "democratic" decision for expensive on-going treatment. This sounds like a death panel to me, but you decide for yourself.

    Lie #5: Illegals Are Not Covered by Obamacare

    President Obama has stated time and again that illegal aliens are not covered under his new plan.

    Still, Democrats say they want to add almost 50 million uninsured. Yet almost one-quarter of these uninsured are illegal aliens.

    None of the Democratic plans excludes illegal aliens.

    In fact, when Republicans proposed an amendment to the House plan to block illegals from getting free government healthcare, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her minions soundly defeated the motion.

    August 25, 2009 at 12:21 pm |
  9. Gerry

    My annual renewal for health insurance goes up at least 20% each year. Am I the only one is noticing this?

    August 25, 2009 at 12:03 pm |
  10. KIm

    45 min.,6 cups needed,cored and sliced pears,1 cup water,1 table spoon lemon juice,1(2 ounce package powered fruit pectin,8 cups white sugar,2 teaspoons ground all spice,2 teaspoons nutmeg, 1/2 cup brown sugar. Process fill jars in boiling water for 10 min.to seal. Are there directions to follow with Universial Health Care ? Tort supported and don't slice up the medicare ! Put it on the shelf and you're pears preserved for life ! Jam on that !

    August 25, 2009 at 10:56 am |
  11. RLWellman

    Democracy is a Government in which political control is shared by all the people, either directly or by representatives whom they elect.

    This does not mean that a President, Senate, or Congress can make laws they feel are best. They are our representatives, that's all the people. Not just the loudest, liberal, left.

    When you try to run a Government without the People's input, this becomes a dictatorship. This is not what America is about. It's about time the Government remembers this!

    August 25, 2009 at 10:52 am |