Thursday, August 13, 2009

Health Care "Conversation" Gone Bad

"Out of Control Town Hall Meetings" screams the headlines on the internet, TV and newspapers.

The focus on the media has been the bad behavior: which for the most part has been rewarded with multiple showings and follow up interviews.

It seems to me that in some sense, the town hall coverage follows the "reality show" formula where the most outrageous and vocally tense (hear loud and confrontational) moments get the most air time.

You can find these accounts anywhere, but here’s one from CNN:

....disruptive protests are turning town hall meetings into shouting matches and drowning out discussion over what is and isn't in health care plans in the House and Senate.

Videos of the protests have been circulating on the Internet, showing raucous crowds heckling their congressmen, and carrying posters with devil horns drawn on lawmakers' heads, swastikas or Obama with Adolf Hitler's mustache.

Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, who had a town hall meeting disrupted by angry protesters earlier this month, said he had never experienced such emotion in his 15 years of holding such forums. Democratic Rep. Brad Miller of North Carolina even had a death threat phoned into his office. A caller said that if Miller supported Obama's plan, it could cost him his life, Miller told CNN.

The effects of these Town Hall Meetings are unclear, but everyone seems to feel unsatisfied. Again, from the same CNN article:

Mark Halperin, editor-at-large and senior political analyst for TIME magazine, said on CNN's "Reliable Sources" (that the) protesters' gimmicks are grabbing the public and media's attention, and valid arguments over the cost and content of the proposals are being put on the back burner. "There needs to be a debate in America on whether we should have universal health care. There needs to be a debate on the president's ideas. If these protesters have ideas, great. Let's hear them. But if they're just stunts to cause a disruption that gets the media tripped in every time, again, I think it's bad for the country whether you want the president's plan or not."

The negativity is not only disrupting the debate on heath care, but it is portraying the nation in ugly light.

I am brought back to Brian McClaren’s excellent article on Sojourners called "An Open letter to Conservative Christians in the US on Health Care." He writes:

But we Christians, it seems to me, have a high calling – to be radically committed to integrity and civility, even (especially) with those with whom we disagree. God, after all, is merciful, generous, and kind to “the just and the unjust”: How can we not have that same obligation regarding those with whom we disagree? Even if others resort to dirty political tricks and distortion of the truth through exaggeration and fear-mongering, we simply cannot. At the very least, we should be seekers of truth, seekers of wisdom, not consumers (or purveyors) of propaganda – even if it comes from members of our own political party and people who quote a lot of Bible verses (often out of context). We have a higher calling.

I think McClaren is right, and I would further suggest that all Americans need to drop the shouting, name-calling, and grandstanding that has marked these Town Hall Meetings. Let us acknowledge the real fears (as well as the rumors, egos, and ambitions) that have been fueling these reactions, and instead create the space to have real discussion and debate on the health care issues that all of the people of this country face, so that we can find the right way forward for all Americans.


Richard said...

Right on, Kurt. I like where you are coming from on most issues. I continue to follow your blogs daily.

Kurt said...

Thanks Richard!