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The fight over health care reform resembles its own kind of political campaign, as though there’s an election just down the road. The television airwaves are filled with competing commercials, just like the saturation of ads you see during a campaign.
But recently, with members of Congress out of Washington for the summer recess, town hall forums on health care have taken an ugly turn for the worse. An unruly crowd in Tampa, Fla., disrupted one such meeting, shouting, waving and heckling the speaker. Similar things have happened at other forums elsewhere.
When I first saw the footage, it reminded me of the people who descended upon a voter registration office in Florida during the Bush-Gore recount of December, 2000. As ballots were being reviewed inside, these well-dressed young professionals, who certainly looked like Republicans, were screaming and rushing the doors, doing everything in their power to disrupt the count.
They were supporters of George W. Bush, and it turned out that the evidence later suggested they’d been sent to the scene intentionally to cause disruptions by none other than then-House Speaker Tom Delay. His reputation had made it clear he wouldn’t be beneath such a tactic.
In fact, the Democratic National Committee has blamed an organized effort by the Republican Party for the bad behavior at forums. It‘s true that those causing most of the trouble are the ones against health care reform, the ones most likely to go into hysteria over the word “socialism.”
But I doubt that this is organized by the national GOP. Party chair Michael Steele strikes me as too bumbling and ineffective to put together such a program. It appears, instead, that the anti-reform hysteria is being whipped up by the usual suspects, Rush Limbaugh and his legion of talk radio imitators chief among them.
Limbaugh is always ready to inject extremist rantings into the simplest of debates. But now he’s started to compare Obama’s health care program to Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Party, warning us ominously, and stupidly, that Obama’s “health reform logo looks like the Nazi swastika.”
Why, oh why, does anyone continue to take that man seriously? Then Sarah Palin, fresh from quitting as governor of Alaska, weighed in with her deeply intellectual and well-thought out opinion. The health care reform bill, she said, was “evil.”
Evil? That bad, huh? A government operated optional program that would compete with private plans to help get the uninsured the coverage they need is….evil? You can see how ridiculous the rhetoric from the other side has gotten. No wonder that many of those who agree with the likes of Limbaugh and Palin are screaming and acting like wild animals at public forums.
Again, it comes down to paranoia over “socialized medicine” and the associated horror of “government-run” health care programs. But few people stop to think that we already have government-run programs that truly help millions of people in this country.
They’re known as Medicaid, Medicare, the entire Veterans Administration apparatus, and government programs for children’s health care. None of these programs are perfect, but can you imagine what our society would be like without them? Their establishment did not flush capitalism into the world’s storm drains, and did not vanquish freedom from our land. Neither will a government plan meant to get close to 100 percent of people in this country the health insurance they need.
Yes, reasonable people can agree to disagree over what is a very important public issue. But I hope people will note which side is going nuts here and which side is remaining calm.
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Rick Howell, a Bedford native, is a member of the Roanoke City Democratic Committee, and can be reached by e-mail at NewCenHowell@aol.com.