Thursday, August 13, 2009

Homework for America

Read First, Debate Healthcare Reform Second
Healthcare reform has been discussed since Teddy Roosevelt’s time. We’ve made improvements throughout the years, of course. But they’ve always come with a struggle. The issues and arguments we hear today – excessive cost, loss of choice, the proper role of government – are not new. So, should the Democrats be surprised that some angry people are showing up at their Town Hall meetings?

Probably not. The trend had already been set. Unfortunately, though, we’ve seen an escalation in anger and a decrease in civility at public events over the years. What promised to be a vigorous negotiation over the latest round of healthcare reform proposals has turned into some ugly confrontations. True, America is all about standing up for ones beliefs and having the freedom to do so in public. What we have seen, however, is not a respectful give and take. There’s not nearly enough discourse and debate, and there’s entirely too much ranting and raving. The bottom line is that there’s precious little communicating going on.

Indeed, debate is about putting forth a proposition and allowing a rebuttal. Instead, healthcare reform is being hijacked by a loud minority of citizens who have no actual interest in participating in a productive conversation. For them, it’s not a question of finding a solution, thrashing out a compromise on problematic provisions, or discussing to what extent the government should play a role. It’s about no government. Rather than becoming a rallying point for a common good, healthcare reform has become yet another “wedge issue” like abortion, school prayer or creationism. It’s another example of the polarization of America , the land of the disappearing middle ground, where threats and intimidation can displace rational thought. Agreeing to disagree is becoming less of an option.

When challenged, when asked to stop the heckling, the healthcare reform protesters exclaim “This is America. It’s my Constitutional right!” And, they’re right… to a point. It’s not alright to inhibit the speech of others. We should want debate. We should want to exchange views. We should want the facts. We should want to communicate.

Invoking the Constitution is interesting, though. I’m wondering just how many Americans have actually read it. The protesters should remember that some of its first words are to “form a more perfect union” and to “promote the general welfare.”

So here’s the homework assignment America: read the Constitution. Know what you’re talking about when you use it to defend your rights. And, while you’re at it, read a few good biographies of the “founding fathers.” See for yourselves what their intentions were in creating our United States.

A special homework assignment is given to all of the politicians and political pundits out there. Read the healthcare reform proposals for yourselves before you talk about the potential pluses and minuses. This is for the public good as well as your own (unless you want to be embarrassed by a poor grasp of the facts). For example, over the past few weeks there have been repeated warnings about government “death panels” that will decide who lives and who dies. On former Senator Fred Thompson’s radio show, former New York Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth McCaughey said, “Congress would make it mandatory – absolutely require – that every five years, people in Medicare have a required counseling session that will tell them how to end their life sooner, how to decline nutrition, how to decline being hydrated, how to go into hospice care.” awarded her its “pants on fire” rating for its complete lack of truth. And former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich was corrected twice by “This Week” host George Stephanopoulis this past Sunday. Mr. Gingrich waved him off and implied that something along those lines were buried somewhere in the 1000+ page proposal. (Again, it’s not.)

I’m hopeful the situation will improve. I saw a good sign at the President’s Town Hall in New Hampshire on Tuesday. The huge crowd was well behaved. Views were expressed, questions were asked and responses were returned. Why the difference? Perhaps people were more deferential toward the President than they were toward members of Congress. Perhaps it was the heavy presence of Secret Service agents. Or, perhaps it was because the attendees were a true cross section of America. Unlike the Town Hall meetings held by members of Congress, people were admitted to the Presidential Town Hall by a lottery – they were randomly selected. Thus, it was impossible to stack the deck with partisans and troublemakers. Whatever the reason(s), let’s continue to communicate knowledgeably, passionately and respectfully.
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