by: Dr. Wilmer J. Leon III, t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Protesters attempted to drown out Democratic Congresswoman Kathy Castor's speech at a health care town hall meeting in Ybor City, Florida. (Photo: Chris Zuppa / Times)
According to 2008 US Census Bureau data, approximately 47 million, or 15.8 percent of the US population, were without health insurance during 2006 - a 4.9 percent increase. In 2005, census figures showed that 44.8 million people, or about 15.3 percent of the population, lacked health insurance coverage. According to a report released by the Institute on Medicine, the average cost of family health care coverage more than doubled from 1999 to 2008, from $1,543 to $3,354.
Based upon these realities, presidential candidate Obama made health care reform a central theme of his campaign. He promised to achieve universal health care in his first term and to cut the average family's health care health care costs by $2,500. In the on-going health care reform debate, it is very important to remember that as a result of this and other campaign promises, President Obama won the 2008 presidential election with 53 percent of the popular vote to Senator McCain's 46 percent and 68 percent of the Electoral College vote to McCain's 36 percent.
According to a New York Times/CBS News poll taken in June, 85 percent of respondents said the health care system needed to be fundamentally changed or completely rebuilt. According to a June poll conducted by the Employee Benefit Research Institute, 83 percent of respondents favored and only 14 percent opposed "creating a new public health insurance plan that anyone can purchase." These numbers indicate that health care reform is very important to the American people.
In spite of these numbers indicating overwhelming support for reform, recent Rasmussen polls indicate that only 42 percent of Americans support the health care reform plan spearheaded by President Obama and the Democratic Party. A record 53 percent of Americans are opposed to the plan.
What is at the heart of this disconnect? How is the Obama administration's message and health care reform plan seemingly so out of sync with the public's perception of reality? Is health care reform on life support?
The opponents to health care reform, particularly those opposed to the Obama administrations plan, are taking control of the public debate by force, distortions and partisan politics. They are changing the debate on health care into a debate on health care for illegal immigrants, abortion, and other wedge issues.
According to The Associated Press, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin called President Barack Obama's health plan "downright evil". She posted on her Facebook page that he would create a "death panel" that would deny care to the neediest Americans.
"The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama's 'death panel' so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their 'level of productivity in society,' whether they are worthy of health care ... Such a system is downright evil."
According to McClatchy newspapers, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-South Carolina) has vowed to make health care Obama's "Waterloo," and urged conservative activists to help "break him." DeMint has compared the United States under Obama to the 1930's Nazi Germany under Hitler; and cast the heated health care fight as "a real showdown between socialism and freedom ... This is a battle I've been waiting for and hoping for, for years ... We've got to stop the socialization of medicine.... We've stirred up a fight."
Recently, conservative talk show host and Republican spokesman and operative Rush Limbaugh compared President Obama to Hitler: "Adolf Hitler, like Barack Obama, ruled by dictate." This serves no positive interests and has no place in intelligent and informed public discourse.
The public debate on health care reform is becoming contentious at best. At many town hall meetings, people are doing more shouting than listening. In Tampa, Florida, a crowd began to loudly chant and scuffle with organizers posted at doorways after the auditorium filled to capacity. In Mehlville, Missouri, St. Louis police arrested six people, some on assault charges, outside another forum that was billed as a meeting on aging, but was attended by activists on both sides of the health care debate. In another incident, protesters surrounded Rep. Tim Bishop (D-New York) and forced police officers to have to escort him to his car for safety.
A lot of the outbursts at the health care reform town hall meetings appear to be coordinated. PolitiCo.com reports that much of the decent "... is being encouraged by Washington-based groups that are devoting considerable online resources to encouraging turnout. Some of the groups even supply supporters with scripts and 'talking points.'" This is one reason why so much of their rhetoric sounds the same. They are reading from the same talking points. This tactic is similar to what was used by Enron Corp. in 2000 when the "Brooks Brothers Rioters" were paid and flown into Florida to protest and disrupt the vote recount.
These types of distortions, rhetoric and diatribes are counterproductive to bringing about real reform and do the American people and democracy a great disservice. Democracy works best when individuals with opposing views engage in open and honest debate in the public square, not contrived debate based on lies and distortions.
Is health care reform on life support? Right now, yes. The Democrats are loosing the patient because they have allowed the opposition to control the debate. To move health care reform from the ICU, Democrats will need more voices than that of the president - STAT!