Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Town Hall Disruptions

These town hall meetings are really quite cringe inducing. It has to be hard for some of these senators to keep a straight face during the Q&A sessions. (Socialism like in Russia????) I know I'm going to come off sounding like an intellectual elitist after this post, but, my god, I'm appalled by the crudeness, belligerence, and overall ignorance coming from the health reform protestors. I mean why are they all shouting? Why are they buying into this b.s. about "death panels" and "pulling the plug on granny"? And the incoherence of some of the rants (I don't want the federal government getting involved in my Medicare!) is just stupefying.

Health care reform, we can all agree, is an issue of paramount importance currently. We all have a stake in it. Our current market-based system is costly, inefficient, and excludes large swaths of the population from its benefits. It is hard for me to comprehend how one could take the stance that no changes are necessary. There is undeniable room for improvement. What ought to be debated is the extent to which change should be implemented. But what we're seeing at these town hall meetings (which are just overflowing with average American citizens, genuinely interested in and concerned with the perceived proposals) is not a legitimate form of rational discourse. Nancy Pelosi phrased it poorly (i.e. the protestors being Un-American) but she has a point; public debate requires more from participants than the shouting of slogans and propaganda. A participant in the public debate of an issue of this magnitude has an obligation to arrive at the debate well-informed. Raising your voice, hurling invectives, and spouting nonsense really don't cut it as legitimate forms of opposition. This isn't the Jerry Springer Show.

I've been reading a little bit of the American pragmatist Sidney Hook lately. He has an essay called "The Ethics of Controversy" in which he articulates a set of rules for rational democratic discourse:
1) Nothing and no one is immune from criticism.
2) Everyone involved in a controversy has an intellectual responsibility to inform himself of the available facts.
3) Criticism should be directed first to policies, and against persons only when they are responsible for policies, and against their motives or purposes only when there is some independent evidence of their character.
4) Because certain words are legally permissible, they are not therefore morally permissible.
5) Before impugning an opponent’s motives, even when they legitimately may be impugned, answer his arguments.
6) Do not treat an opponent of a policy as if he were therefore a personal enemy of the country or a concealed enemy of democracy.
7) Since a good cause may be defended by bad arguments, after answering the bad arguments for another’s position present positive evidence for your own.
8) Do not hesitate to admit lack of knowledge or to suspend judgment if evidence is not decisive either way.
9) Only in pure logic and mathematics, not in human affairs, can one demonstrate that something is strictly impossible. Because something is logically possible, it is not therefore probable. "It is not impossible" is a preface to an irrelevant statement about human affairs. The question is always one of the balance of probabilities. And the evidence for probabilities must include more than abstract possibilities.
10) The cardinal sin, when we are looking for truth of fact or wisdom of policy, is refusal to discuss, or action which blocks discussion.

The boldface font is mine. Nancy Pelosi is wrong about these people being Un-American. Unfortunately, they represent something that is an all too frequent quintessentially American archetype; the uninformed, strident, unwavering voice of righteous protest. Learning about the complexities of major societal problems is never easy. And the Obama Administration certainly needs to do a better job of articulating what exactly it is they mean by "reform". But showing up at these meetings just to yell and disrupt rational discourse is bush league. It may not be Un-American, but it's certainly anti-democratic...


HMS said...

It's paradoxical - borderline ironic - to watch the video while reading:

"Survey Finds High Fees Common in Medical Care"

America is as stratified as it comes. It's ironic that those who yell & disrupt the town hall meetings are quite likely those to benefit the most from the gov-backed reform. If the reform failed, they are most likely the folks to suffer from the continuous cost spiral. American or un-American, they are unknowingly shooting themselves in the foot.

Anonymous said...

I think Senator Specter can keep a straight face about anything, he's the one who came up with the "Single Bullet" theory of the JFK assasination after all...
People just get a little PO'd when some fossil who's been sucking down Government Healthcare for the last 28 years, 2 rounds of Chemo, god knows how much tylenol, Augmentin, Viagra from the Tax Payer financed clinic there at the US Capitol, manned by US Navy physicians...
Arlens almost 80 himself, and some people might consider a 2d round of chemo for someone who's almost 80 umm maybe a little hint from the Man Upstairs that you're past your checkout time. Heck, I oughta be the one doin HIS end of life counseling...
I'd pull that line from Ronaldus Maximus himself...


Seriously, I hope the old goat lives to be 120, just keep your gnarly hands off of MY Viagra...


Andrew_M_Garland said...

The attendees are upset, inarticulate, and don't have a commanding view of the facts. They suspect that they are being fooled, because they have so little and contradictory information, from whatever sources.

Who is more to blame for this? I say it is the government who has the overwhelming responsibility to explain and justify its proposals. It is not the job of every American to be a legislative researcher to decode what is being legislated. Townhalls and press conferences are laughably inadequate to "discuss" policy.

Looking at the bill(s) is torture, to decode something that is obviously being put into code. So, I say, where are the official, government policy papers that lay out the plans, principles, and justifications for the legislation? It is the responsibility of the government to officially explain its policy, not the job of each citizen, or even the press, to decode a 1000 page bill. Whatever I extract or infer, I am drawing my own conclusions, and the government can say that I am misguided.

If Obama is wise and good, then have him show his ability and insight by presenting the policy papers that guide the legislation. He has to have them. It would be unthinkable that Obama would attempt to legislate major changes in society without a written, organized analysis of proposed results, expected evolution, methods, justifications, comparative studies, past successes, funding sources, the works.

Regardless of your party or philosophy, you should demand this display of analysis and investigation. Demand it ahead of any legislation. The rule of construction is "Measure twice and cut once".

Obama wouldn't try to legislate from some scribbles on a cocktail napkin, would he? He wouldn't say "give me anything, we'll rearrange it later to do what we want", would he?

Join me in the demand to "Show me the policy paper!". If Obama or any politician refuses or says that it doesn't exist, then I suggest mocking him with "Show me the cocktail napkin!"

A Few Words About Policy

Anonymous said...

It's instigated.

"A Republican National Committee ad said that in the U.K. "individuals lose their right to make their own health care choices.""

Anonymous said...

The town hall disruption is most likely in part "AstroTurfed" (engineered) and in part a genuine reaction to special interest groups' scare tactics.

Anonymous said...

UK Health System Hits Back at US Critics

"How dare the Republicans bad-mouth our free health care system?" The Guardian columnist Michele Hanson wrote Wednesday. "If I'd been born in the U.S., I'd probably be dead by now."

tom said...

Do you think the same "approach" by a concerned citizen wearing an ACORN T-Shirt would generate so much media concern about the citizens attitude, intellect and motive?
How is that when Obama holds a town hall meeting on the issue not only does he not get any tough unsolicited questions, when he asked for a dissenting view, no one spoke up-

I recently contacted my Congressman, Tom McClintock (R) and asked to be provided a copy of HR 3200.. the response I received was that the Bill was very large, thus not available (to me) in print and that I should look it up on the internet.

Me thinks the common ground for both parties is that they would prefer their contituents tobe well behaved and follow orders.