The rowdy side of Democracy

Americans at county fairs are friendly and nice. Americans at family reunions are fabulous. Americans at town-hall meetings? Not so great.

August being the month for all three, we are seeing a particularly dark side of ourselves this month.

Many Americans are in a rage over the possibility of changing the health-care-insurance system, although our current system has left 47 million Americans out of the picture and has denied coverage to millions of others even if they have insurance.

Americans are flocking to town-hall meetings, screaming and shouting down nonplussed legislators, brandishing guns and throwing around false rumors as if they were hand grenades.

What’s up, people? Do we really like the fact that the insurance companies are controlling lives, health and destinies because these companies have been left on their own to devise complicated, costly policies and practices?

Do we not want to make the best of this brief window of opportunity to make changes aimed at benefiting millions, bringing down costs and helping small businesses?

Are we going to get distracted by going off on ridiculous tangents, such as believing (falsely) that Congress would have the government create "death panels" to do in Granny?

Are we going to stand for death threats against lawmakers who for a change are trying to work together?

Apparently, the answers are yes, no, yes and yes. Because of the concerted efforts of some radio-talk-show hosts who need to gin up their ratings and some Republicans who need an issue for fall elections, we may be on the verge of giving insurance companies new government subsidies, failing to help Americans who can’t afford health care or are going bankrupt because of medical bills, believing poppycock and not even getting upset at threats of violence against innocent people.

It is becoming likely that nothing will change or that if a bill does emerge from Congress it won’t be a bipartisan approach. It will be signed, sealed and delivered by Democrats. It will be wildly unpopular. And it probably will fail to cut costs, insure more people and help stabilize our economy.

Instead of having a serious, reasoned, bipartisan discussion about how to solve the health-care-insurance mess, we are acting like lynching mobs, willingly led by red-faced, know-nothing bloviators with microphones.

One reason for mad August is that we are scared. Old values are disappearing. The jobs our parents had are gone or no longer pay a living wage. Politicians have abused our trust, getting us into wars we can’t win, spending our tax dollars foolishly and leaving us with huge debt. The house we sank our life savings into is worth half of what we paid. And if we get sick or injured, we’re in serious financial trouble. So-called experts say that if we aren’t saving impossible, gargantuan sums, retirement will be a nightmare.

Another reason for crazy August is that getting outraged is a kind of catharsis. It gets the juices flowing.

One good development is that Consumer Reports magazine — published by a nonprofit research group that evaluates products and services without taking advertising money — has begun evaluating ads for and against health-insurance reform. It offers reasoned, unemotional evaluations at

The current blog features the vapid, uninformative new ad featuring Harry and Louise, who, 15 years later, are now for reform. "A little more cooperation, a little less politics, and we can get the job done this time," says Louise. The blog says the best thing about it is that Harry and Louise look fit, possibly because of good health insurance.

We have to hope that September brings a little more reason, a little less emotion. We need to take a deep breath, actually listen to what is being proposed and work for improvement. We also need to remember that it is against the law to threaten the life of a member of Congress, even in the heat of August at a rancorous town-hall meeting.

(Scripps Howard columnist Ann McFeatters has covered the White House and national politics since 1986. E-mail amcfeatters(at)