Friday, August 07, 2009

Defining the 'Fight'

It is disheartening, to say the least, that congressional Democrats are presenting themselves at town hall meetings during the August recess only to be shouted down, jeered, booed, and threatened even to the point that it becomes necessary to involve police protection, as happened recently in Tampa FL. The confusion and downright fear of the average citizen in this whole “debate” is understandable because each political party seems more intent on scoring points than honestly discussing, debating, and presenting legislation as far-reaching and expensive as this proposed national health insurance plan (we must stop referring to it as health “care” reform), thus leaving themselves open to ridicule and downright abuse because relatively few seem to even know or understand what is on the table. Hence, the town hall meetings intended to inform.

The White House is no help with the uncivilized behavior that is being expressed and experienced by threatening to “punch back twice as hard”, as expressed by White House deputy chief of staff Jim Messina. Just as President Obama recently – and suddenly – found his own foot in his mouth by referring to Cambridge MA police acting “stupidly”, Mr. Messina’s poor choice of words is only adding fuel to the fire and completely mischaracterizing exactly what is at stake.

Members of Congress are now forced to deal with the certain reality of an approximate (if appropriate) 30% approval rating. In a nutshell, 70% of these polled Americans do not trust the Congress even if they happen to like their own congressman. Strange situation, that, but I do not want to digress. The mid-term elections are more than a year away, and a more pressing problem exists now.

It does no good to engage in shouting matches at such functions as these town hall meetings because a) no one is afraid of the shouter (if this is what the shouter seeks), b) the speaker has an obligation to make his or her presentation and answer questions, c) others are in attendance because they have legitimate questions and concerns, and d) common courtesy and decorum demand a certain level of behavior conducive to an open discussion and mutual respect. The people may not like what they hear and the members of Congress may not like what they hear, but this is the life of public service. It is not a matter of shoving something down one’s constituents’ collective throat so that they will “take it and like it” (which ultimately defines ‘fascism’), but it does mean these members of Congress are obliged to listen. They can even try to sell what they believe in (as they should) so that voters can then decide for themselves how to vote in the next election, but members of Congress must never be threatened to the point of requiring police protection. They do, indeed, “work for us” (as many shouters have proclaimed), but they are not required or obligated under any circumstances to subject themselves to verbal abuse or threats of physical harm.

Top-level Democrats, including US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-CA, and US Senator Harry Reid, D-NV, are also mischaracterizing the objections that are being expressed by these protesters and shouters by suggesting that these citizens are little more than “stooges” for monied interests. In putting too much emphasis on the frustrations of citizens as misguided or misappropriated, they risk fatal political harm to the honest debate – and perhaps to their own careers – that must necessarily take place. They fail to notice, or seriously note, that citizens are expressing their utter sense of powerlessness and lack of control within a system of government that was not intended or designed to usurp the will of the people appropriately expressed through their representatives. They have done little to allay the confusion and honest fear these protesters have of a tyrannical government that appears poised to force something on them they do not want.

In the din of confusion that is utterly and painfully apparent, it is impossible to know exactly what the fight is all about. Are we resisting a new, expansive, and expensive government program we obviously cannot afford, or are we resisting an overly expansive government that seems bent on taking without asking? If it is the latter, it leaves us with this burning question: why do we continue to reelect the same people to the same offices, knowing we will only get more of the same?

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