Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Special Comment: Health Care and Civic Discourse

Forgive me for stealing one of Keith Olbermann's television staples, the Special Comment. In fact, before I get into my own with regards to the not-so-gradual eroding of our civic discourse when it comes to the health care reform debate, allow me to share with you his Special Comment from Monday night's show -- his second in as many weeks.

This time, the Republican leaders, insurance lobbyists and right-wing pundits were in Olbermann's proverbial crosshairs, as he took them to task for their stoking of irrational fears and turning what should be an honest debate into a contest of who can shout the loudest.

It's like an episode of SportsCenter, but with more violence.

Anyway, here's the video from Monday night's Countdown:

Unfortunately, those who would likely benefit most from Olbermann's words -- those who would likely change their ways if they allowed thought and reason to permeate their minds for even five seconds -- will probably never see this. Olbermann was, in essence, preaching to the choir.

He often does, since those he calls out rarely, if ever, take the time to watch his show -- or anything else on MSNBC. For a lot of those Olbermann was talking to get their information from FOX News, which is anything but fair and balanced and has been granted legal permission to mislead its audience. On the off-chance they saw Olbermann and heard his words, it's likely they would just shrug and toss them aside, waiting instead for the latest nugget of "insight" to spew from the piehole of Bill O'Reilly, Glenn Beck or Sean Hannity.

Those Olbermann directed his Special Comment toward have already eroded our public discourse, because they let the likes of Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin and insurance lobbyists overwhelm the opposition side of the conversation. Some of the "ordinary Americans" we see disrupting these town halls are likely people with legitimate concerns with regards to cost and availability, but rather than engage their elected representatives in vigorous yet polite debate, they've been encouraged to be loud, obnoxious, rude and at times borderline violent.

The GOP mindset? Yell loud enough, and you'll be right by default.

Palin's assertion on Facebook on Friday that her parents and her child with Down's Syndrome would be subject to "Obama's death panel" is not just misleading and irresponsible; her assertion that President Obama's health care plan is "downright evil" is not just misguided -- it is, in point of fact, just as evil as what she claims health care reform would be.

You cannot stuff the proverbial cat back in the bag either, Governor. Your Facebook post on Monday asking for civility is nothing more than a pathetic backpedal, and no one with a brain is fooled. We see through your veiled hate, just like we saw through it last week when Limbaugh likened Obama to Nazis (only to this week claim he never did), just like we saw through it last week when Beck, who grows more mentally unstable by the second, joked of poisoning Nancy Pelosi.

You might be able to scare the fringe that is either too simple-minded or scared to think, but you can't fool the rest of us. We know there is no death panel -- just as we know that if there were, everyone from the staunchest liberal to the biggest God-fearing conservative would stand in line to oppose such a travesty. The portion of the bill you "claim" to refer to actually talks about end-of-life consulting ... you know, living wills and deciding what to do should your mother or grandfather become so sick they can't make the decision themselves. This bill would allow Medicare to reimburse you for that conversation with your doctor.

That's it. No death panels. No euthanasia. No secret plot by the government to kill Grandma.

I wish the ordinary Americans who have honest concerns about health care reform would heed Olbermann's words, as well as mine. I'll be the first to admit the bills working their way through Congress aren't perfect -- HR 3200 has several inherent flaws with regard to the public option, and the bill stuck in the Senate Finance Committee might not even have one -- so I welcome honest questions and debate. That's one of the staples of this great country we call America.

If you have a concern about how much reform will cost, say so. If you want to know how a public option would affect the private insurance you currently get through an employer, speak up. But be polite and sensible about it. This is a bill that, if done right, will not only make us a stronger, healthier nation, but will also help get our economy back on track. Health care costs make up 17 percent of our national economy -- yet we're 37th in the world in quality of care, according to the World Health Organization.

This issue is far too important to let the right-wing fringe derail everything. We must stand up to their fear-mongering and their hate and their disguised racism -- but let us not match their anger with our own. That will serve no one and might ultimately get someone hurt or killed. We must bring logic and reason to a discussion that has been decidedly lacking in both, and when we see a middle-aged woman in tears begging for her America back, let us see that for what it is: someone who still can't handle having a black man in the White House.

We must look at the man standing at a health care rally in Connecticut wearing his Anthem Blue Cross-Blue Shield shirt -- a man so concerned with his own corporate interests, he didn't even attempt to hide his true nature. We must look at the Republican officials who not only condone this sort of behavior, but encourage it; when "Astroturf" protestors threaten union organizers with "the Second Amendment," our nation's discourse and the democratic process have suffered more than anything else.

Our national health care debate is no longer about health care -- which is the way the opponents want it. They prefer to focus on Kenyan birth certificates, corporate interests and attempting to mask their contempt for a President they don't view as their own. I'm often hesitant to play the race card, but in this instance, I believe it is warranted. All this vigor -- not to mention the teabag protests earlier this year, and the hatred spewing from McCain/Palin rallies last year -- has one root cause:

A black man is in the White House.

We cannot accept this. We must stand up for what we believe, we must put the right-wing fringe in their place. We must point out when they're wrong, take action when they present a danger. The fringe and the corporate interests tugging on their puppet strings have steered the conversation away from the facts, and it's up to us to bring the conversation back. If we want health care reform -- true health care reform -- we have to fight and desmonstrate the same vigor and passion we had back in November, when we made Barack Obama our new President.

He needed us then, and he needs us now.

Given Olbermann's recent penchant for quoting Abraham Lincoln, I offer another quote from our great President that might be appropriate under given circumstances:

"The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew."

It is up to us, ladies and gentlemen, to not only take the health care debate back, but the country as well. Yes, we have a Democrat in the White House, as well as sizeable majorities in both chambers of Congress, but the right-wing fringe still has such a hold on this nation and its debates -- our fight did not end Jan. 20, 2009.

If anything, it just began.

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