Friday, August 28, 2009
My Experience Of Democracy In Action
Mary Landrieu at the mic.
All right. Enough procrastinating about writing a post on Mary Landrieu's town meeting in Reserve, Louisiana, on health care reform. The local newspaper accounts are in the Times-Picayune and the Advocate. Check out the Advocate for the picture of the sign which reads:
OBAMA HAS A PRESCRIPTION FOR AMERICA - next to a hammer and sickle.
My account will be personal. It appears that this meeting may the only town meeting Mary will hold, so I suppose it was a good thing we went, although my experience of democracy in action left me shaken, as I still am today, and pondering gloomily on the future of democracy in this country. I reached home yesterday in a state of exhaustion.
We arrived at the National Guard armory at around 11:00 AM on Thursday for the meeting that was to begin at 2:00 PM to check things out, intending to grab a quick lunch and return to wait for the doors to open. When we saw the numbers of people arriving, we decided not to leave. We had water, and that was good enough.
As we walked to the door we encountered friendly folks who were handing out signs and stickers in favor of health care reform. We took the stickers and stuck them on, but not signs, because I was already carrying my purse and my laptop. I was sorry afterward that I did not take a sign. The stickers read:
HEALTH INSURANCE REFORM '09
WE CAN'T WAIT!
The weather was hot, but we found a place under the shade of the canopy in front of the door of the building. If we had left, we would definitely have lost our places in the shade, and Grandpère's bald head would have been exposed to the sun for two hours, because he didn't have his cap with him.
Apparently, our stickers were enough to attract those opposed to any type of health care reform, because they began to approach us with their spiels, "Do you know this about Obama?" "Do you know this about the health care bill?" GP would not contend with them, saying simply that he believed that we needed some type of reform and then letting it go. But - surprise, surprise! - I began to point out that some of what they said was not true. I began to cite information of my own. Some of the folks were quite civil. One woman showed me a picture of her 24 year old daughter, who has cystic fibrosis and is near death. She is a beautiful girl, and her story is heartbreaking. I asked the woman what sort of health insurance she had. She told me she had insurance from her husband's employer and from Medicaid. This woman wants no reform of health care which includes federal programs, but her daughter is covered partially by a federal-state program called Medicaid. Ordinarily, her income would be too high to have Medicaid coverage, but right here in decadent and backward Louisiana is a little known program whereby people with chronic diseases, which require expensive treatments, may, on a case by case basis, get waivers and be covered by Medicaid. My friend's son, who has hemophilia is partially covered by Medicaid, although he has health insurance, and his income would ordinarily be considered too high for Medicaid.
So here is this very sweet lady and her beautiful, but tragically ill, daughter covered partially by a federal program, but who is campaigning against any health care reform at all by the federal government because it will be socialistic. I don't get this at all. I pointed out that Medicaid was a federal-state program. She said, "I know, but I want to keep what I have." She has a son in Afghanistan, and I said that I would pray for his safety and for her daughter and for her whole family. And I said no more to her.
Another very sweet and polite woman (covered by Medicare and yet campaigning against any interference by the federal government in health care reform) and several others spoke of page 16 of the bill out of the House of Representatives, that allegedly would make private health insurance illegal. I did not know what was on page 16 of the House bill, but I said that I could not take their word for it, because I would have to see it in print to believe it. Here is the refutation of the page 16 allegations if you care to read. Too late to help those folk, of course, not that they would have been persuaded anyway.
Then the meanies came. The first woman told me one thing after another about Obama and the health care bill that I knew were not true, which I pointed out to her. I asked her if she thought health care was a moral issue, and she told me that she did and that her husband made quite a lot of money and why should her tax money go to pay for the health care of others, including deadbeats? That was the moral of her story. I tried to explain about what insurance was for, that it was about spreading cost and risk, but that got nowhere. She continued to get angrier and angrier and more and more in my face, until she was screaming and waving her sign so close that I thought she would hit me. Once we were inside the meeting room, and she saw that I was taking pictures, she posed sweetly, especially for me, with her sign. You see her below in the middle of the picture. Her sign reads:
FREEDOM IS BURNING AT THE STAKE
NO GOVERNMENT TAKEOVER
The next woman who approached me said that she'd had cancer and been treated at M. D. Anderson in Houston, and that she wanted to be able to go there if she ever had cancer again. She appeared to have had major surgery around her chin and mouth. I told her that I'd had cancer, too. When she said things that were false, I said, "But that's not true." And then she started on page 16, too, and I repeated that I didn't believe that, and she got really angry and said, "Fuck you, you bitch!" and walked away.
The nice woman who had the sick daughter insisted that I go over to talk to a Cuban-American woman. I had my sandals off and was standing on top of them, because my feet hurt from standing so long, and as I was trying to put them back on, the Cuban woman said, "She doesn't want to hear it." I put my sandals back on, and walked over to them, and the vital information that she had was, "Obama is Fidel". I said, "No, he is not." She turned away in disgust.
Then another woman droned on and on about socialism. I asked her, too, if she thought everyone had a right to health care and if it was a moral issue. She said that life isn't fair, it could never be fair, and that everyone didn't have the same rights. Then she proceeded to tell a long story to illustrate her point, of a teacher in the classroom with children, some of whom were doing well and others poorly, except she made the story really long and dragged out. Trust me, really long. I confess that I broke in once to ask her what the story had to do with health care. She said, "Wait! Let me finish!" It turned out that the story had nothing at all to do with health care, but, at the end, she asked me if I wanted the teacher to give all the kids good grades just to be fair. I said, "Of course not! But what does that have to do with health care?" She said the story was to illustrate that things couldn't be the same for everyone.
The group included a good many angry people and a good many ignorant people, and sometimes the anger and ignorance were present in the same person. The level of hatred for Obama should not be underestimated. Yes, hatred. I asked the screaming woman (before she started screaming) where she thought Obama was born. She said, "I haven't seen a birth certificate." When I said, "I haven't actually held the birth certificate in my hand, but I have seen pictures of it on TV and on the internet," she smirked and shook her head. "Why didn't he have to prove that he was born in the US?"
I never initiated one conversation. I did not indulge in name-calling. I may have raised my voice at times as the exchanges got heated, and I confess that I burst out laughing a few times at the absurdity of some of what was said, and that probably inflamed the opposition. I would not soon want to repeat this experience.
"Kill the bill! Kill the bill!" the crowd chanted over and over.
And tort reform will save us all. It's the answer for everything. I'll say more about that tomorrow in my post about the actual meeting.
What I heard just standing outside the building caused me to doubt the wisdom of democracy. "Lord, give us a king!" But what would be better?
As you see, my post is quite long. I've used the post to vent, because I needed to. I was stunned by the level of anger, and the level of ignorance, and the level of hatred for Obama. I've seen the same sort of thing here where I live, but on a smaller scale, and to see such a large group of people exhibit such anger, ignorance, and hatred was quite disturbing. The hatred of Obama is partly racism and partly the Muslim connection. He's not a real American.
Those who supported health care reform were perhaps a third of the group, and they were much less vocal. Let me emphasize that Mary Landrieu and her supporters were the good guys in this movie.