It would not be too strong to say that I loathe politics. I vote, and have done so since I was first able to at age 19, but mostly without enthusiasm; choosing the least objectionable candidate is gritty, unsatisfactory work. Other than that, I try to ignore politics. Unfortunately, politics does not return the favor, so I occasionally give in to the prodding of my conscience and attempt to articulate a political opinion in a blog post, or write a letter to an elected official, or attend a political meeting.The last is rare indeed, but that's what I did the other night. Our state representative held a health care "town hall meeting." On my list of preferred activities it was somewhat below scrubbing the bathroom floor with a toothbrush, but I put on my Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes and ventured out into the rain anyway. Not without a bit of grumbling under my breath, but this was one of the few candidates in memory who actually impressed me in his campaign—or maybe credit goes to the campaign worker who rang my doorbell; those of you who know me know that it takes someone really special to impress me after starting out on such a wrong foot! Anyway, I decided to go because I can't very well complain about what they're doing to health care if I don't express my opinion, and because I think our representative is a good guy and what a shame it would be if he held a meeting to get people's opinions and no one showed up. I thought I'd at least go and say hi and maybe get to know him better.
Now that was a pretty funny idea! Shows how little I know about politics. I began to suspect I might have been wrong when I saw all the cars in the parking lot. I managed to find a parking space, and later a seat, thanks to the fact that Google Maps is unaware of an important street closing on the way to the hall, so many people arrived late.
Anyway, the room was packed—I'm guessing 300-350 people—with policemen stationed around to prevent...what? Riots? We Central Floridians are pretty civilized folk, I guess. There was some speaking out of turn—though one man who did later apologized—and clearly feelings were running strong, but at least up to the time I left, it was pretty calm.
Yes, I left early. I had decided soon after seeing the crowd that I would listen, not speak, and many of those who spoke expressed my concerns for me. So after about an hour I decided I'd had enough. I'm the kind who leaves ball games in the middle of the ninth and exits EPCOT before the fireworks—anything to avoid the madding crowd of cars all trying to leave the parking lot simultaneously. The headache induced by the strobe effect of the ceiling fans that hung below the lights was all the excuse I needed. Fortunately, the Mozart clarinet concerto on the radio on the way home brought relief; Advil and hydration at home completed the cure.
It was worth the effort, even if our representative has no idea I was there. Here are a few observations:
- Feelings, as said, were strong. What's happening with health care is an important issue to a whole lot of people who have far better things to do than go out in the rain to a political meeting. (Scrubbing the bathroom floor, for instance.)
- Our representative, along with others, is sponsoring a bill that would (if it makes it through the many necessary steps) enshrine in the Florida Constitution an individual's freedom of choice when it comes to health care and insurance. My first reaction was that the idea was pretty silly, because if the federal government imposes dislocations in the health care market that drive out private competition, our state constitution isn't going to make any difference. Upon reconsideration, however, I think it's a worthwhile effort. Governmental and corporate subsidization of public education, for instance, has indeed placed a burden on private and home education, but that's all the more reason the right to the alternatives needs to be clearly established. What's more, if successful, this and similar efforts under way in other states will make a clear point, one which the national government will do well not to ignore.
- The crowd was far from uniform, but a great majority were very worried that we are about to dismantle the best health care system in the world. As one person put it, sure, there are some changes needed, but if 85 percent of the population is content with the health care they have now, is it necessary to take such drastic action to please the remaining 15? At the risk of ending up with much more than 15 percent unhappy?
- Dissenters generally spoke well, and made some good points, though sadly they were by and large irrelevant. It sounds good—and we no doubt need the reminder—to plead that we need to be compassionate and care for the poor and needy, but it begs the question as to what policies will best accomplish that goal. It reminds me of a "status message" that made its way around Facebook recently: "No one should die because they cannot afford health care, and no one should go broke because they get sick." True, but you might as well say, "no one should die, and no one should go broke." The issue is not a simple, "Should we help people?" but the much more difficult, "What is the best way?"
- Which brings up another point from the meeting: health care rationing. Everyone speaks of this as a bad thing, and I agree, but what most people are unwilling to acknowledge is its inevitability. Thirty years ago a physician friend of ours shocked people with this idea, and I haven't forgotten his logic: as medical care becomes more and more technological, complex, and expensive, it will become impossible to give the highest level of care to everyone. He was a Catholic and as pro-life as you could want, but even he spoke of triage, of the necessity of addressing the issue of the best allocation of healthcare resources. Whether the allocation is done economically (some will die because they are too poor to afford care), or through availability (some will die because they must wait too long or travel too far for care, or because innovations have been discouraged), by policy (the old and disabled will die because care is diverted from them to those younger and more fit), or by some other means, there is no getting around it: people will die. So far, my own opinion is that the economic allocation is actually the fairest of these, because it holds out more hope for individuals: financial obstacles, difficult as they may be, are easier to overcome than unavailable care or bureaucratic rules.
- On the lighter side, the crowd at this meeting was not only civil, but educated. We began with the Star Spangled Banner, sung by the representative's young daughter, who turned out to have a very nice voice. But you couldn't hear her for long, because most of the audience joined in the singing—and knew the words. Best of all, the daughter must be an alto, because the song was pitched so that no one screeched on the rocket's red glare. It's a pity we didn't sing my favorite verse,* but then no one would have known all the words, not even me.
- One final note. No one should hold a public meeting without giving the audience members a quick lesson in microphone use: hold the mike close to your mouth if you aren't a trained singer, a regular church lector, or a trial attorney. Clearly this crowd had not been to enough karaoke bars....
*Oh! thus be it ever, when free men shall stand
Between their loved home and the war's desolation!
Blest with vict'ry and peace, may the heav'n-rescued land
Praise the Pow'r that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: "In God is our trust."
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!