When Barack Obama made the election promise of ambitious health-care reform in his first year in office, anyone who had paid attention to the issue would have predicted that the battle would be fierce. But one of the most curious developments of this debate has been that the group one would have thought would be leading the charge against reform – the health-insurance companies – has largely stayed quiet. They haven't aired attack ads, as they did in 1993, nor have they sent their representatives to the talk shows to blast the president and his efforts.
About 200 protesters wave signs and chant outside a townall meeting in Alaska where Sen. Mark Begich is speaking. The group is working to get Begich the hold a town hall meeting on President Obama's health care plan. (AP Photo/ Al Grillo)
If you've watched any of the growing library of YouTube videos depicting (mostly) middle-aged white guys yelling at their members of Congress during town meetings about health care, you may have had the following reaction: Why are these people so angry? Did that congressman kill that guy's dog or something? What the heck is going on here?
For many years, it was hard to know whether the oft-told story of the elderly woman who walks up to her congressman, wags a finger in his face, and says, "Tell Washington to keep its hands off my Medicare!" was actually apocryphal. But today, this episode is being re-enacted over and over again, at town meetings and in coffee shops where politicians go to practice their phrenological arts, passing their fingers over the ever-changing bumps on the public's collective pate. One recent example came in a Washington Postarticle, in which Rep. Bob Inglis, a Republican from South Carolina, related that an elderly constituent gave him this very instruction.
In order to reap democracy's fruits, we have to endure many sacrifices. The cost of enjoying the freedom to express our views is that we must tolerate the despicable views of others. Giving everyone the freedom to worship as they wish means that beliefs that could probably warrant intervention with powerful psychopharmacology are instead accorded the utmost respect. And a legislature made up of popularly elected representatives means that our laws are made by bodies that include no small number of liars, knaves, and fools. This is the democratic bargain. It's worth every penny, but there are times when it makes you want to scream.
For many years, progressives have admired the strategic and rhetorical unity conservatives always manage to achieve whenever a new debate emerges. The fact that Republicans and their allies seem to speak with one voice -- making the same arguments, repeating the same talking points over and over -- gives them a leg up whenever the two sides are trying to persuade the public. Democrats and their allies, in contrast, are more often a cacophonous jumble of competing and contradictory messages, shooting off in all directions.