A Progressive Frustrated With Democrats

I followed up my visit to a Republican’s town hall with a visit to a Democrat’s town hall and observed a marked difference in the tenor of the two events and the way that the Democrat had set up the Q & A session. Betty McCollum, the Democratic Representative from the 4th Congressional District in Minnesota, scheduled her town hall event on health care in a nondenominational chapel at Macalester College in St. Paul. Clever move, that. Who could get rowdy in a nondenominational chapel (except a whirling dervish)?

Betty McCollum was a school teacher in North St. Paul before she entered politics, and she still runs her events with full command and control of the situation. She owns her events and, without raising her voice, makes it clear that unacceptable behavior is, well, unacceptable.

In my post regarding Michele Bachmann’s event in Lake Elmo’s Oakland Junior High School auditorium, I hadn’t said that the Washington County Sheriff’s Department was heavily present. They were there to signal that no unruliness would be tolerated. McCollum didn’t need any cops. She had her own control and command. She also had the foresight to hold her Town Hall in a chapel. Even though the Weyerhauser Chapel at Macalaster College in St. Paul is a nondenominational chapel, it is still a chapel, and people tend to think of chapels as being places of quiet respect and contemplation. Believe it or not, even I, as an ex-Catholic Atheist, have a reverence for buildings with altars.

The organizers added one additional tool to keep the discussion civil. They handed out tickets in advance to people who chose to have input at the meeting. They were the double ticket sort, numbered and separated by perforations. Those who wished to have three minutes at the microphone were to put one half of their double ticket in a basket. During the show, they would pull three tickets at a time and the holders of the matching numbered ticket were to be ready to talk. This way, there would be no jostling lines at the mics as has happened in other town halls.

McCollum’s constituents signed in at one table and the auslanders signed in at another. Each sign-in sheet had space for comment, for those who weren’t to get a chance to speak. I filled out the box with this message for the Congresswoman:

The current bill, HR 3200, is too large and unwieldy and should be scrapped. In its place, Congress should authorize block grants to states which would then be required to develop Universal Coverage plans as testing grounds. Minnesota should be one of these states, and should follow the model that Senator John Marty has developed.

I do think that the current debate has gone far afield from anything that will solve the problem of millions of underinsured and uninsured Americans. I think that even a “reform” of the insurance system with a public option is doomed to fail, because it is going to be drawn favorably for the pharmaceutical giants and the insurance companies that have settled in on K Street to “negotiate” with the Democrats. The result so far, has been an agreement that in exchange for dropping the “preexisting conditions” and practices of rescission, they would only need to be responsible for 65% of the costs of their customer’s care. They didn’t concede anything towards controlling the cost of premiums. They promised eighty billion dollars towards closing the “doughnut holes” of prescription costs, in exchange for not allowing negotiation on drug prices.

The current bill is loaded in favor of those who are footing the bill to fight it, and whether that is to make them look good by “giving in” to something they want when this is all over and done, I can’t say. I think it is something is guaranteed to fail in solving the coverage crisis. It’s time to start from scratch and make it simple.

This is what I wanted to tell Betty McCollum. I hoped that my number would be drawn, but considering the turnout and my own history with winning any sort of drawings, expected that reality would prevent me from having my say to the whole group.

I found the next line, the one for entering the event when the doors opened. I was standing between two groups. One group was a pair of seniors, Republican women, friendly women actually, who were there to protect their Medicare. They were worried about the deficit and raising taxes. I talked to them about how our current system is damaging our manufacturers’ competitiveness on the international market. I told them the one about how Toyotas built in Japan cost less in terms of overall labor cost, because insurance is covered by the center-right government of Japan, than GM cars built in the United States. Picking up the tab is expensive for those of our factory owners who cover their employees’ premiums.

The group behind me were nurses, they were health care practitioners who have seen the effects of bureaucrats coming between doctors and patients. One of the group behind me said she was glad I am on their side, because, as she put it, I am “articulate.” I almost made a remark about how our president, too, is articulate, but then thought better of myself.

The reporter from FOX9 news found one of the few conservatives in the crowd, who took the opportunity to say, “I think that we really need to stand up and prevent this indoctrination and socialism.” I chortled, but I am sure that it was edited out. I don’t watch FOX9 news, so I am not sure what they played and what they left out. There was also a crowd of protesters who were holding up signs, including one that said, “The Nanny State is Dangerous To Your Health.” I shook my head. Nanny state? Another held up a sign that was a Photoshopped image of Obama as “The Joker” from The Dark Knight. The caption read “Socialist,” which I thought of as odd, because in The Dark Knight, the Joker claimed to represent anarchy, while Batman took on the role of the authoritarian. I wondered whether the person who held the sign had actually seen the movie. The proper caption for the picture as originally published is “Why So Socialist?” That one makes more sense in the context of the movie.

Obama in White FaceThe person who had this sign was allowed to take it inside to the event. Now, those of you familiar with the Joker as played by Heath Ledger can understand why it may upset some people. It looks a bit like “blackface” theatrical makeup, only in negative. It looks as if Obama is a black person trying to be white. I knew that this was not the sign carrier’s intent, but others in the chapel objected and asked him to remove the sign. I found myself in the odd position of siding with conservatives on this one. Part of it was due to the fact that I saw more offensive signs, and those weren’t raising ire. Another part is that I am not for promoting censorship. I calmed what was about to turn into a heated argument by explaining to a few people that I was an Obama supporter and I didn’t find the sign offensive. It’s not like the caption was “We Need a Great White Hope.”

I was sitting next to a conservative, who buffered me during the conversation from a redneck who, during the rising argument over the sign, managed to croak out the words, “I am offended that liberals exist,” in response to someone else being offended by the sign. I wonder whether he thinks abortion should be prohibited only for conservatives, but that those of us born destined to be liberals should be thwarted by D & C at birth. I think that he meant to say is, “I am offended that liberalism exists,” but I can’t be sure.

Now, on to the event itself. Betty came out and talked about the problems that have led to a crisis of health care coverage and outlined what she believes to be the solution. She is in support of the monstrosity that is HR 3200, but pointed out that it is not yet a complete document and that in September it is likely to see major changes. She reiterated that Senators and Congressional Reps are in their districts to hear what their constituents have to say about it, so that they can take that back with them. And then the drawings began to find out who would get to have their say.

Mr. “Offended That Liberals Exist” was one of the first three to speak, and told the heartbreaking tale that he had switched jobs and had to change insurance and that one of his kids had a preexisting condition and that he and his wife struggled to pay all the bills, but dammit, this is America! and he didn’t expect anyone else to be responsible for his problems and he doesn’t expect anyone to be responsible for them now and they need to fix health insurance but not make it socialist! “Good points,” Betty responded.

Other people said they didn’t want any of their money going towards killing babies. Make sure that there are no payments for abortions (but continue funding the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, where, yes, children are getting killed, which is okay because they are collateral damage in the War against Terrorism). “There are no provisions in the bill for funding abortions,” Betty told the questioner.

Lots of questions from conservatives afraid that the bill would take away their freedoms to choose their doctors, their insurance company, their deductible. Some people wanted à la carte insurance because they didn’t think they would need coverage for pregnancy and childbirth (which sounds like people who think they shouldn’t have to pay for education in their property taxes if they don’t have any children in school).

Democrats.  No need to hide.  We won in 2008!

Democrats. No need to hide. We won in 2008!

Betty McCollum did a lot of assuring and comforting of conservatives in the crowd–that the bill would not damage them in any way, that there would be no “death panels,” that the special needs patients wouldn’t have to beg a panel for care, that they would be able to stay with their current plan, that Medicare would be fixed so that Minnesota hospitals are no longer punished for being efficient. She didn’t say anything to show those of us who had campaigned and doorknocked and phone-banked to help Democrats get elected in November that we were going to be heard this September. She didn’t say anything about fighting for a public option, let alone the one fix that would actually take care of the problems, single-payer health care, such as the type that our top competitors on the world market offer.

Single-payer was not even discussed, nor was the language part of the bill in Congress. It is a topic shunned out of fear by the Democrats, because…well, because…because…I just don’t know. It is an untouchable topic in Congress and the Senate, and it is what the people who worked so hard in November want. But maybe we were just the mice who had chosen the Black Cats over the White Cats.

I’m really frustrated with the Democrats.

When I was standing in the line for Fourth District constituents to sign in, an older gentleman was complaining that Obama is the most socialist president we have ever had. I laughed at him, and asked him whether he was serious, and he said he was. I told him that he really should ask progressives and liberals what we think of that. He was clueless as to what I mean.

We have been shut out, not by the conservatives, but by the Democrats. We have one Senator who is shy of leading the charge even for public option reforms, instead opting to wait until the final bill before she will commit to voting for it. We need to remind them that they can’t take us for granted, and they had better do what we elected them to do.

We need leadership, and if the Congressional Democrats are going to forego it, then Stephanie has the way to lead, and not follow, in this debate.

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3 Responses to “A Progressive Frustrated With Democrats”

  1. September 7th, 2009 at 7:42 pm

    Greg Laden says:

    OK, where did you get the donkey picture???????

  2. September 7th, 2009 at 8:00 pm

    Mike Haubrich says:

    From your porn collection…

    No, actually just googled “Donkey hiding” in images.

  3. September 7th, 2009 at 10:18 pm

    Greg Laden says:

    It’s just that I’ve used that image before. For something special.

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