Saturday, August 8, 2009

Norman Rockwell it ain't!

This morning I attended Congresswoman Nikki Tsongas' "town hall meeting" on healthcare reform in Chelmsford. I have been studying and working on analyzing the current health reform legislation in Congress with great personal and professional interest and was hoping to hear a lively discussion about the pros and cons of HR 3200 (the current House bill) between Representative Tsongas and her constituents as I am a constituent myself.
Personally, there are several provisions of the reform legislation that I find troubling, but this post is really about the actions of many of the attendees.
Outside of the building were several groups both pro and con on reform - one group in particular had posters of President Obama depicted as Adolph Hitler. I am not sure who they were trying to impress. Luckily, most people were snickering at them.

Of the close to 250 people packed in the Chelmsford Town Hall it ran about 60-40 against reform. However, the biggest takeaway for me was the utter lack of respect for the opinion of others and the general lack of civility.

Healthcare is a very personal issue to people and does arouse strong passions. Unfortunately, it seems to me that some "fringe elements" were attempting to hijack this discussion.

I was ashamed that many of my fellow citizens resorted to shouting down the Congresswomen and the people who were trying to ask questions. There were a couple of dozen very loud and animated folks there who were bent on rudeness and chaos, not discussion. Some resorted to name calling and swearing. Several of these "brave" folks did this from the back of the auditorium where they were well positioned to make a lot of noise and then fade away.
There were several good questions and discussion points, but the yahoos heckling from the crowd made it very hard to focus on the discussion. I give Nikki Tsongas a lot of credit for keeping her composure in the face of so much blatant hostility. I don't want to give the impression that everyone was rude at this event, but a sizable minority were.
In terms of the points that really aroused the audience was anything dealing with a public insurance plan option, why single-payer was not a part of the reform bill, end of life decisions, and the rationing of care to control costs. Many who were there had their minds already made up and did not want to listen to any opposing viewpoints.

I was utterly disgusted at the tactics of these people on both the left and the right. As an American I relish a good passionate discussion, but when civility is left behind for screaming and name-calling, it leaves me quite cold. As someone who professionally studies politics and political tactics I do know why loud protest and "in your face" tactics are utilized. They can be disruptive and help a given group achieve it's political goals. But as a citizen, I am discouraged at the state of things and wonder how we as a society has come to accept this.
To end on a good point, a real positive was the opportunity to chat with a couple of folks outside as I was leaving the venue (there were a bunch of people who couldn't get in as the building was at capacity). We had a nice back and forth chat in a civil and respectful way. One was pro-reform and one was a skeptic, but the three of us had a good discussion and left on friendly terms. I was also able to play professor a bit as neither one was intimately familiar with the bills before Congress.

In my mind I have the vision of the famous Norman Rockwell painting "Freedom of Speech" (posted above) as what a town hall meeting should look like. Sadly, today was not one of those days...

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