Health Care Town Halls - The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly #healthcare

One of the main reasons I became interested in following politics as more than a passive observer is that during the New Hampshire primaries I found that I loved town hall meetings. It wasn’t just one candidate’s town halls, it was any candidate, anytime, anywhere, if at all possible I’d attend. In my view town halls are what politics should be all about. So it is with mixed emotions that I watch the health care town halls. There is good in these town hall meetings, but both sides could do better in making them more effective and more on topic.

First, as mentioned previously, there is a legitimate cause for anger, as until these town halls started people’s concerns about spending and rapid growth of government had been largely downplayed, and as people voiced their concerns the Democratic party came out with a condescending email that summed the opposition up as a dim-witted, reactionary mob. That was followed by an article by Speaker Pelosi and Representative Hoyer calling some of the town hall participants un-American (not helpful).

However, people who see these town halls as simply a platform to vent are missing an opportunity. The issue is health care reform, and meandering diatribes on all the woes of our government or country doesn’t make the politician answer a question, and it fuels the angry back and forth between the two sides.

While there are some who seem to think ramping up the anger helps make a point, I disagree. It likely did bring some media attention to the issue, but we’re falling right back into the same old pattern of demonizing the opposition, and sparking a petty back and forth when there are real issues to address. So here are a few requests…

Knock off the name calling. No more Nazi, Hitler, or mob references. There is no evidence that anyone on either side intends any physical harm to the other side, and since that is what these groups/people are most known for, these labels are ridiculous.

Fringe acknowledgement and fringe forgiveness. Both sides have a fringe element that are ironically similar in their kookiness. Instead of debating whose fringe has the craziest conspiracy theory, how about just acknowledging that everybody has their has their nuts, and they don’t represent the majority of the party. I’ll start. There are some independents who want to sucede from the union, they don’t represent what most independents want, but they do exist. Similarly the inappropriate act of an individual should not be used to characterize all members of a particular group. Frankly if this is the standard used it would mean that both parties would be permanently condemned.

Give some respect to the politicians coming out doing these town halls. There are a good number of politicians backing out of doing live town halls because they don’t want to contend with an angry room. Those who are out there facing the crowd and answering the questions deserve a hat tip. Senator Arlen Specter has received a lot of heat lately, but watching him walk through a crowd and diffuse a very tense situation between two angry men wins him points in my book, even if he doesn’t win me over on health care. Similarly Senator Claire McCaskill also wins courage/crowd control points for taking tough questions and handling an overheated crowd.

Finally, wake up news media and cover the issues and not just the craziness. When I attended the town halls during the primaries at every single event there was a question about health care. The candidates often had very different plans, but not one candidate dodged the health care questions. Yet the media never showed either these  questions and/or answers, instead they’d often complain that the politicians weren’t talking issues. In this case they were, the media just wasn’t interested. Their sloppiness in coverage is also fueling this fire. Inadequate coverage of both the issues and the differing positions on the issues is causing frustration and confusion, and again the news is late to the party only delving into a topic once there was a sensational aspect of the story to make it newsworthy in their eyes.

Finally town hall participants, ask tough relevant questions. This is being done by many, but the more smart pointed questions the better. This is what town halls are all about. You not only obtain good information this way, you find out who knows their stuff an who is canned or following a script. Attend meeting, ask questions, maybe you’ll enjoy them as much as I did.

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