Thursday, August 13, 2009

Just Americans

(Freedom of Speech, by Norman Rockwell)

There's been a lot of talk about the town-hall meetings about health care, about the riled-up citizens attending them, their behavior, their manners, their origins. Are they well-funded professional agitators, right-wing radio zombies, people mad about job losses and other things who don't care what the issue really is so long as they get to yell at somebody from Washington? Are they dangerous, racist, threatening? Are they harmless, clueless, distracting?

Or are they just Americans?

This nation of ours was founded like no other. There was no divine right to be king here; there was no titled class whose poorest or least competent members would always count for more than the smartest, richest, cleverest or most industrious of the commoners. We don't even have a class of people we refer to as "commoners," an omission in our national vocabulary that was an unthinkable linguistic innovation to most of our ancestors in most of the lands where they were born. It was just taken for granted that some people are, by virtue of who they are, better than others--not by virtue of innate gifts or education or intelligence or hard work or other qualities, but simply because of their birth, their breeding.

In America we may have some elitism, and it's not altogether a bad thing; but it is an elitism largely based on achievement, on the ambitious pursuit of personal excellence, not on some list of ephemeral qualifications that includes, without needing even to be mentioned, one's family tree. Sure, we have our well-known families--but being a Kennedy, say, doesn't exempt you from being judged to be far too incompetent to be, for example, ambassador to the Holy See; the elitism of birth only gets you so far in America, and we don't suffer fools just because they have a pedigree as other nations sometimes do.

Because America considers the whole question of who one is a little differently, Americans have always been rather outspoken and blunt in our dealings with politicians. There is no bended knee and if-my-lord-will-attend kind of groveling here. The best-respected of our elected leaders are the ones who have proven themselves in the private sector; the least-respected, on either side of the aisle, are those who have never shown themselves to be anything other than useful windbags, ready to fill with hot air and point in any direction in which the drafts of government's latest legislative ventures are prepared to blow.

And the winds of "hope and change" are beginning to blow in what many Americans see as a very dangerous direction, particularly in this matter concerning health care reform. Instead of a modest bill designed to address some real and serious problems we have in America in regard to the access of ordinary citizens to health care, we have seen several thousand-page monstrosities filled with minutiae creating a vast web of bureaucratic structures to stand between Americans and their doctors. Instead of protecting the lives of Americans we see threats to the unborn, whose executions for the crime of existence will probably be covered under final legislation; we see threats to the elderly, who will "only" have to have "voluntary" conversations with their doctors every five years to discus end-of-life planning. More than that, though, we see a blueprint for a forcibly-opened Pandora's box, out of which will teem the insects "Unintended Consequences" which will be addressed not by a transparent, public bill, but by riders and codas attached to all sorts of other legislation. If government health care is a behemoth at its birth, it will be a Leviathan long before it has attained its maturity.

The problems with health care could be fixed with much smaller, much more focused legislative efforts--and it is sobering to realize that when the Republicans controlled Congress they did not seize the opportunity to do so, thus leading us toward this inevitable struggle. But many Americans have come to believe that the agents of the federal government--our elected representatives--don't want "smaller" or "focused" change. They want a crack at ever-expanding, ever-increasing power over our lives and our fortunes (and they'd probably go after our sacred honor, too, if there were any money or Congressional tenure in it). They may not want full-blown socialism, which tends to collapse under its own weight in a depressingly short time--but I think they'd like enough socialism to be guaranteed greater job security in our struggling economy, and to get away with more pocket-lining and influence-growing which is the Congressional enhancement to Social Security.

And the people, a lot of them, who show up to town hall meetings have caught on to that trifling reality. They've caught on, at long last, to the truth about Congress and the federal government--that it is out of control, that it increasingly tries to augment its own power and financial control over the lives of Americans, that the members of Congress increasingly work not for us, but for themselves.

Hence the angry cries of "You work for us!" at more than one town hall meeting. If there was anything needed to show Americans once and for all that members of Congress tend to think of themselves as government employees with good career tracks, good salaries (though they're always ready to vote for a pay hike) and good benefits, that they view elections as necessary evils and meetings with constituents as photo ops for the next campaign, it has been this health care road show. Congress is ready to vote for a health care plan that might quite likely mean the end of private insurance for many more of us than want or need a public plan--while exempting themselves from this plan, and making sure they get to keep cushy red-carpet benefits the likes of which few Americans get from their employers. But they work for us! They work for us; we are their employers, and it's high time a few of the incumbents get an unpleasant shock at what they like to think of as "contract renewal time," and what we call elections.

I think a lot of the yelling at town hall meetings is happening precisely because these elected public servants are waltzing in acting like they are there to be served, and are put out because real, not-necessarily-photogenic people showed up wanting real answers to real questions. Our Congressmen and women didn't get to plant "random" questioners like a cute little girl whose mom was a heavy Obama supporter to pitch them softballs--they had to face real people demanding answers to the many ways in which the health care reform bills under consideration threaten American liberty, potentially harm American innovation in health care, and treat American health care workers as if they are all greedy dishonest leeches who look at your tonsils or appendages with dollar signs in their eyes. And when they refused to answer these questions, the concerned Americans attending the town halls asked louder, and yelled, and showed their anger.

Because they're not sleek, sophisticated dealers in euphemism and sympathy, like the MSM. They're not glad-handing promoters like lobbyists or heads of special-interest groups. They're not discreet corporate sponsors with a Senator or two in their pockets. They are just Americans, and they want to be heard.

And the Congresscritters facing them have never seen anything like them before.


Anonymous said...

But certainly there's a better way of communicating instead of yelling and screaming and looking like a d-bag, right? The anti-health care folk have every right to protest . . . peacefully.

Red Cardigan said...

tmamone, civility goes both ways. When people are shut out of town halls or handed pro-Obama signs to carry, or told that the Congressperson won't be taking questions despite promises to do so, yes, people get mad, and they yell.

Should they? No--provided there's a forum for their respectful questions. There isn't, and hasn't been, and probably won't be, because this was never an honest endeavor to collect public opinion; it was supposed to be a quick and dirty operation to get lots of media coverage headlined "Enthusiastic Citizens Clamor for Government Take-Over of Health Care!"

Anonymous said...

Surely, the bottom line is...not all the representatives of the people are 'newly' elected Democrats?

Kabayo said...