The health-care debate has turned raucous. Angry crowds are showing up at "town halls" to protest congressmen who support President Obama’s proposals to reform and expand health-insurance coverage in America.
Democrats say Republicans are trying to drown out the debate by shouting down reform advocates; Republicans say Democrats are trying to stifle dissent. Either way, the debate about health reform has become a debate about the debate.
Is this any way to behave in a democracy? Joel Mathis and Ben Boychuk, the RedBlueAmerica columnists, jump into the fray.
As often happens in American politics, the debate over health reform has become a contest of who can scream louder.
It’s a pretty stupid contest.
This is partly President Obama’s fault. Instead of offering a straightforward proposal, he’s let Congress take the initiative. The result has been a still-evolving series of proposals that, taken as a whole, looks to the average observer like a near-indecipherable morass that might contain a few good ideas — but also might not.
Democrats have thus far been unable to offer a coherent message about why reform is needed and how the proposed reforms solve the problems. That’s created a void into which Republicans have, gleefully, jumped.
Some of the opposition at "town hall" meetings has been based on legitimate philosophical differences. There are conservatives who see a greater government role in providing and regulating health insurance as creeping socialism — and hey, didn’t we wage a Cold War to be free of that kind of thing?
But much of the opposition has come from irresponsible and fact-free fear-mongering: Glenn Beck and his talk about health insurance as "reparations" for slave descendants; Sarah Palin raising the specter of "death panels" that would kill her son; Investor’s Business Daily’s assertion that a British-style health system would’ve killed disabled scientist Stephen Hawking — never mind that A) Hawking has actually lived his entire life in that system; and B) Democrats aren’t trying to copy the UK.
Democrats need to offer a coherent plan and a smart message to back it up, or they deserve to lose the debate. But Republicans don’t deserve to win based on loudness and lies. An estimated 46 million Americans have no health coverage, and millions more are under-covered or unduly burdened by insurance costs. They deserve better than to have the loudest screamer win.
The two cardinal rules of politics: claim credit and avoid blame. More and more, the rule for this administration and its allies is to disparage opposing points of view as well.
President Obama recently told supporters at a rally in McLean, Va., "I don’t want the folks who created the mess to do a lot of talking. I want them to get out of the way so we can clean up the mess." Inconveniently in a representative republic, the majority doesn’t get to shut up the minority so easily.
Of course, if Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid had their way, we wouldn’t be wringing our hands about civility at town-hall meetings. Any "debate" over health-care reform would be in the past tense.
Fact is, the Democratic leadership wanted to ram through a health-care bill before Congress adjourned for its August recess. In lieu of debate, Democratic leaders have chosen to defame. They’ve tarred voter displays of angry opposition to their plans as "un-American" and called critics "brownshirts" and "political terrorists."
Happily, enough Democrats recognized that their political futures would be in jeopardy if they voted for a bill they hadn’t read, with provisions that could do real harm to their constituents.
The problem with the debate isn’t that some Americans are acting rudely. Like it or not, boorishness is not a crime and rudeness is still protected by the First Amendment. No, the problem with the debate is that Americans are actually debating, and not rolling over and letting Congress run roughshod over 16 percent of the U.S. economy. That’s our democracy for you.
(Ben Boychuk and Joel Mathis blog at http://www.infinitemonkeysblog.com and http://politics.pwblogs.com/.)