There is no doubt that legitimate differences in public opinion exists over President Obama’s proposal for universal health care. It should be expected when there is a public policy issue of such critical importance discussed on Capitol Hill. Though there are bipartisan disputes on the proposal, there are just as many questions being raised within the Democratic Party, as has been made clear by conservative “Blue Dog” Democrats. These disputes notwithstanding, the level of rancor that is on display at health care forums being held throughout the country is alarming and, we are convinced, has little to do with the matter at hand.
From reports around the country, there are clearly citizens who are showing up at these Congressional town hall type meetings on health care who have concerns over various aspects of the President’s plan. There also is a well-organized insurgency that seems intent on distorting the facts and disrupting civil discourse. Much of the opposition’s anger is steeped in misinformation and the outburst at these forums appears to be a deliberate attempt to derail health care reform by confusing the public. Judging from comments on the Internet and remarks from opponents, there is also the distinct scent of racism in the air. The tone of the comments and vitriol being spouted suggests that it is the President himself that is the object of scorn and not the proposed policy. The deeply personal attacks on Mr. Obama remind us once again that there are many people in the country who are resentful that the President of the United States is a Black American.
The current toxic climate also is a painful footnote on the demise of legitimate media and the over reliance on the demagoguery too frequently found over the Internet and on radio. Newspapers serve a moderating and educational role in society, and their disappearance has left too many citizens captive to the rants of self-absorbed partisans. The consumption of rhetoric has now spilled over into an important policy debate as citizens are being fed half-truths by fringe elements that are reinforced by talking heads. Instead of having an informed debate about health care, we are witnessing the chaos that results from an uninformed citizenry.
The frenetic outbursts at these meetings contribute little to further public understanding of the details in the proposal. In fact, they turn off citizens who have legitimate concerns about the President’s plan. That, of course, is part of the mission of the “dumb-down brigade,” to raise enough doubt in the minds of the public that its well-documented support for universal health care will erode. The White House political team that was so adept during the Obama campaign must kick it into high gear and engage in ground combat if the President’s plan is to survive. With Congress in recess, the real action is in Congressional districts where Democratic legislators are under siege. It is not enough for President Obama to respond to his critics in a calm and thoughtful way, his team must be willing to go to-to-toe and counterpunch the opposition in a very public way.
If your Member of Congress is holding forums on health care, we encourage you to attend. Before you do though, take the time to learn about President Obama’s proposal. You can go to the White House website – www.whitehouse.gov – to get the details. Go to the meeting informed, with questions, and ready to counter the propaganda that opponents are putting forth. We are not suggesting the President’s plan is perfect but Mr. Obama deserves our support for his fearlessness of taking this issue on despite the many other pressing priorities his administration faces.