Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Health care smackdown

Don't know about you but I'm ready to give up my ringside seats for the Great American Health Care "debate". After watching CNN and MSNBC coverage of the shoutouts and smackdowns at town hall meetings, I've satisfied my voyeuristic cravings, but not sure what to do with my feelings of horror and shame.....

It's not enough to just "tut, tut, tut, tsk, tsk" my self-satisfied self through this moment while the "barbarians" have at it. The moment cries out for me to get involved, but what to do, what to do as this process has taken on an ugly life of its own.

Perhaps the first thing is to remind myself that TV, as it always does, exaggerates the size and vehemence of the crowd. With the right angle and lens, a TV camera can turn a 50-person street demonstration into city-wide chaos and conflagration. So, a part of me is skeptical about how widespread this problem is.

Another part of me is triggered by bad memories of my political awakening in (then) conservative suburban Chicago, and the nastiness of the debate when The Other (Jew, black, liberal, gay) threatened the serenity of the established order.

We progressives are going to have to reshuffle our own deck as we seek a solution to what may become a political impasse. Looking down on our noses at the mob just won't do. Perhaps a double dose of compassion is in order.

Change is a great political slogan but a legislative and social nightmare. How often have we heard the lamentations about how much we want change, we need change, and then, when change is the order of the day, we retreat into patterns and attitudes that comfort us and those are rarely about the change we really need.

We have to be gentle with ourselves--and our countrymen. The extremists---well, they need to be invited or coerced to return to their caves--but my fear is that they are succeeding at frightening the rest of us (their goal). Our leaders are failing us by not clearly articulating the choices we face and encouraging an open debate on the merits. (Ya don't want a government-run health care system? gee, then let's dismantle Medicare, Medicaid, and the VA hospitals.)

Obama seems oddly, weirdly, disconnected from this process---trying to remain above it all without appearing to have any real skin in the game, thereby leaving the 535 bought-and-paid-for legislators to articulate 535 different versions of the choices we face. It's actually the height of federal arrogance to assume that We the People cannot sort through this very complicated challenge and emerge with a way forward. Give us a chance to be heard, but teach us, lead us, be honest with us about the risks we face and the potential rewards.

Let's not get ready to rumble.....

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