Like many others I have been watching the news and reading it on the Internet attempting to get serious information on what has been happening on the health care debate out there in cities and towns across the country. What I have been watching is a reminder to me of why I have been disillusioned with both political parties for some time, and why I have declared myself an Independent for over a decade. So I offer some thoughts which will irritate partisans on the Left and on the Right, which is OK; when it comes to politics I am an equal opportunity annoyer.
Point One: Town Hall Meetings-- It should be clarified right from the outset that town hall meetings are not really what their sponsors claim them to be; they are in reality nothing more than one-sided pep rallies meant to sell a product-- in this case someone's political agenda. President Obama trucks in a sympathetic crowd for his rah-rah sessions on health care as did George W. Bush for the War in Iraq before him. In so doing they have turned what could have been a meaningful exchange of ideas into an infomercial long on generalities and short of specifics. If you want to watch an interesting town hall meeting, just watch an old rerun of The Bob Newhart Show. At least those Vermont gatherings had the virtue of being quite funny instead of a cure for insomnia. I think we should declare a moratorium on town hall meetings. They are as scripted and choreographed as presidential debates.
Point Two: Protesters-- I need to say that I am not much of a protester myself. I could never see the sense in standing outside somewhere with a picket sign. That does not mean I do not feel deeply about many issues as does everyone else, but I am a results kinda guy, and I have never been able to justify the cost of time to concluding benefits ratio when it comes to protesting. Nevertheless, I am glad to be in a society where people can exercise that form of free speech. We must never silence those who believe differently; and I support everyone's right to have at it. But what I have witnessed the past few days in reference to dissent reveals the hypocrisy of both the Left and the Right (why am I not surprised).
Sub-Point One Under Point Two: (The Right)-- Frankly, conservatives are not very good at protesting because they have not had much practice. In general conservatives do not protest, except for pro-life groups. So, when conservatives protest it looks... well... dumb. Don't get me wrong-- I support their right to dissent; but watching how they go about it tells me that they need a lot of coaching, which is why it is rather comical to hear some suggest that this is all orchestrated under Dick Armey. As Al Hunt of Bloomberg (who is no conservative) said yesterday morning in an interview-- Dick Armey couldn't even organize Congress when he was in office. Of course, there has been some organization going on, but as Hunt also rightly noted, you can't organize this many people to come out all over the country. Many of them are there because they are truly upset and they are frustrated.
The other thing I will mention about conservatives is the utter hypocrisy they are now showing in their disdain for those who protested the War in Iraq suggesting that such protests were unpatriotic and not supportive of the troops. Now that they are on the minority end protest, which is about all they have, doesn't look so bad.
One more thing-- leave the protesting and shouting to outside of the town hall. Leave inside for the discussion and debate. Disrupting and stifling debate is not what democracy is about. Carry your signs on the sidewalk, but check them at the door. And critique the plan you oppose honestly and fairly. Stop the nonsense about the "bureaucratic death boards."
Sub-Point Two Under Point Two: (The Left)-- Unlike the Right, the Left has perfected protesting. Almost all of the protests that take place in this country are carried out by liberals. Unlike the Right, whose protests look as awkward as two teenagers on a first date, the Left has turned public demonstration and disruption of meetings into an art form by protesting everything from changing the name of fish to "sea-kittens" to blocking a guy with a chain saw from cutting down some tree infested with a rare multi-legged insect whose only purpose in creation is to mate once during a life-span of twenty-four hours. So it is really disingenuous now for those who have mastered the discipline of public dissent to act as if the very foundations of democracy are at stake because people on the Right are dissenting themselves on the Democrats' current health care proposal. Indeed, how dare Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer write in an op-ed in USA Today that such disruptions are un-american; they who took such loud and public issue with Dick Cheney who said that dissent on Iraq was also un-american; and kudos to President Obama for repudiating such a comment in Mexico yesterday.
Which brings me to the White House-- The Obama Administration, (ala Robert Gibbs) displayed political cynicism in its worst form when it first suggested that the protests at town hall meetings were manufactured. Such a comment simply tried to hide the fact that there were people on the Right organizing a community of people for a cause. As I recall, Gibb's boss was at one time a community organizer. Indeed, the Constitution gives all American citizens the right to organize and assemble. Somebody in the White House should have thought twice before throwing that one out there.
And one more comment to the Left-- critique the opposition honestly and fairly. Stop the nonsense about protesters simply being extremists who can't accept the fact that we have an African-American president. Playing the "race card" will not further the discussion and debate.
Point Three: Tone-Deaf Politicians: Those who talk of the Washington bubble speak the truth. One of the biggest problems with Congress is the career-politician on the Left and on the Right. I used to oppose term limits for senators and representatives, but now I support them. What happens with career politicians is that they forget that they answer to the people, which is why they are so shocked at the dissension at town hall meetings. Members of Congress are used to simply informing their constituents of all the wonderful things they are doing for them. Town hall meetings have become nothing more than progress reports with a few friendly, softball questions. They truly do not know how to respond to voters who have had it with vague generalities and the "just trust us" mentality.
When the Republicans controlled the White House and Congress they over-reached in a big way. They mistook their control of both elected branches of government as a mandate from the people to do what they willed and spend what they desired. They were tone-deaf to what the people wanted and the voters tossed them out of office and gave power to the Democrats. The Democrats, however, have so quickly forgotten the lesson they should have learned from the other party. They now are acting like they have some mandate to do what they will and spend what they desire. Nancy Pelosi has apparently forgotten as well that her party gained control of Congress because of the election of moderate Democrats. The "blue dogs" made her Speaker of the House. She better not put them in the dog house with their constituents or she will end up out of the House after November 2010.
I am not a guy who likes screaming and yelling to make a point. I would much rather sit a bunch of people down at a table over coffee and have a spirited yet civil debate over health care or any other matter than concerns all of us. But it seems that there are only two ways that the American people can get the attention of politicians from both parties-- in an election year they vote, in a non-election year they have to resort to screaming and yelling to be heard.
After all, if your elected official is tone-deaf, that is about all you can do.
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Cross-Posted at RedBlueChristian