My colleague and I wanted to experience for ourselves a true health care reform town hall, though we were admittedly a little frightened after watching highlights of past meetings on the news.
Nevertheless, we gathered our courage and set out, visiting one such meeting Tuesday night near the EBN/EBA office. Despite volunteers handing out George Washington’s code of civility to everyone in the audience, the Reston, Va., town hall got a little heated, to say the least. One man continuously shouted “Liar!” at Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) and former Vermont governor Howard Dean whenever they spoke of the public plan option, and at certain points yelled “Despot!” at the mention of President Barack Obama and at the introduction of Dean.
Still, compared to other town halls, this was relatively tame. Only one man was escorted out of the building and there were no physical altercations (inside the building, at least. There were news reports of a fistfight outside the venue). There was a whole lot of chanting, however, with the bleachers seeming to come alive in the high school gym — the passionate outcries and the thundering stomping of feet reminiscent of a school homecoming.
“Health care reform is under attack! What do we do? Stand up, fight back!” was a popular pro-reform cheer, whereas those against screeched back, “We can’t afford it!” Naturally, pro-reformers retorted with the all too familiar, “Yes we can!”
Moran began the meeting by debunking various health care reform myths, touching on death panels and whether the public plan would force employers off private sponsored coverage. To the latter he stated that “CBO projects that, rather than the bill forcing employers to drop their coverage, more employers will provide coverage under this bill.”
When we spoke with individual attendees, we discovered a mixed bag of supporters and opponents of health care reform. One such skeptic, Vesta Pearigen of Fairfax, Va., explained her view on the matter, saying:
“You don’t need to reform the whole health care system for a small percentage of the citizens of this country [who cannot afford insurance to get coverage]. Quite frankly, I’m tired of people in this country depending on the government for everything, from the cradle to the grave. What happened to our spirit of independence? Our spirit of entrepreneurship? When people took care of themselves instead of looking to the government for everything?”
When asked what question she would pose to Moran and Dean, she stated: “I would like to say, 'How are we going to pay for all this?' Because the government right now is so far in debt that your children’s children will be paying down on the debt and pretty soon they’re not going to be able to keep printing more money and China is going to own the United States.”
On the other side of the spectrum, Kevin Walsh of Arlington, Va., supports a public option, a contentious topic that quelled up the most ire and applause throughout the meeting.
“There needs to be something done to level the playing field for little guys like me and my friends and my family,” he said.
Bernadette Gibson of Alexandria, Va., disagrees.
“It’s not up to a liberal arts major [to make these important decisions about our health care and coverage]. Americans are logical and we work hard, so leave us alone.”
Not likely, as politicians press on, holding town halls like this one throughout the country. With any luck, people will stop shouting “Shut up!” and actually listen to what each group has to say. After all, as one sign queried: “Is dissent un-American?”
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