I stood outside of a town hall meeting the other day to interview people who had participated and recorded this really amazing interview with one of the more influential speakers on health care reform.
Me: "Hello, may I stop you for a... yes, please. I'm doing a follow-up to the town hall meeting that you just attended. Can I ask you a few questions?"
Him: "I really don't want to talk I'm a little depressed...."
Me: "What's troubling you? Something you heard in the meeting?"
Him: "Well no... Yeah I guess. People.... All right, you want to know? The president calls me out. The president mind you, to try and remind people that they have a little power to change things, y'know? But I... How did we get to be so damn dumb?"
Me: "We being?"
Him: "Americans. You, me... That guy in there wearing tin foil to repel government mind-rays repeating what he heard on Glenn Beck's show last week. How did we get to be so ignorant?"
Me: "Health care reform frightens a lot of people."
Him: "It shouldn't. Obama says if you like your health plan, keep it. That should be pretty simple. It scares the Insurance companies. They will have to compete with a public option, which might keep them honest.. anyway. Everyone wants to tell you about every horror story that they have heard. Woman waits six months to get her gallbladder out in a London suburb and comes out with a third arm and a godless athiest too. I'm supposed to come in, do my thing and we're good, but no.
Me: "What is 'your thing?'
Him: "Me? I'm the most important part of the whole process."
Me: "Which would be --"
Him: "I'm The Vote. If you don't get me out there, nothing happens, right? After my cousin, The Money, I'm probably the only other fella that anyone on Capitol Hill cares about."
Me: "I'm sorry. I didn't recognize you. You usually only make appearances during election years."
Him: "That's when everyone pays attention, but I'm here in all of those other years, for all of the issues, big and small. Used to be you couldn't have a war or a highway project or a big spending bill without me, but since the Bush administration was so good at bullying the Congress and doing things without asking anyone, I had to take a little holiday.
Me: "You were a bit neglected in the Bush years, yes."
Him: "That's okay. The president called me back into service about two years ago. It was nice. People welcomed me back, even threw big rallies to get me to come out. You know how politics goes. That was then. This is now. I just guess that I didn't have much luck today in there. I'm just venting."
Me. "That's too bad. You were hoping to have what happen in the Town Hall?"
Him: "What was I hoping? I was hoping that my fellow citizens in there would tell their members of Congress what most of them wanted. Or at least what my friends the polls, you know, that nice couple down the Hill who have all those politicians and journalists camped out in their front yard... Yeah they told me the other day that they think Americans are really looking for a public option in health care to give everyone coverage and to keep the private insurance companies honest. Those big companies, like the ones in insurance or hospitals or the big drug companies who don't want things to change, are filling the airwaves with a lot of scary stuff that makes my job that much harder."
Me: "So you think that people are listening to the scare tactics?"
Him: "They're going positively nuts. 'They're going to turn the oxygen off on grandma!' one woman cries.. And the ones who think that health care reform is the first step to them losing their guns.. Oh! The guy, on the way out there side, the guy who swore that socialized medicine would cause GE to use its broadcast satellites to call in the first wave of the space aliens' armada... Says he heard that one on O'Reilly."
Me: "It gets pretty absurd, then?"
Him: "Some of these folks make Forest Gump look like a Rhodes Scholar. They're calling the president a Nazi, even though he said over and over again that the public option was not mandatory, and the biggest proposals in the health care package don't begin to approximate what they have in Canada or the UK. They spend $4,000 less per person than we do on health care and get similar results. They spend millions less on paper pushing, insurance for doctors, trial lawyers. That's what scares all of these big interests who have millions that flow their way now. I don't get the little guy, though. Why anyone wants to fight their insurance company, which loves them when they're healthy but does not want to hear from them if they get really sick, is beyond me."
Me: "Nobody had anything smart to say about the public option or the health care bill?"
Him: "A few people did. Look around though. A tiny handful of people in that room and how many are out here, walking around like none of this affects them. Or they think that just because you vote for someone, that they'll do what you want, without doing anything themselves. The folks with The Money know that. They count on me falling down and not doing my job, which, let me tell you, is not easy when you live in a country where people don't read and don't follow much of the important stuff even on TV."
Me: "What would you expect them to do? They already picked their leaders, right?"
Him: "President Obama told us that change doesn't happen with just him. It takes everyone being out there, being activist. The kranks and the kooks are out there waiving signs and carrying side-arms to political meetings because yeah, maybe they don't have a life, or they're just that scared, but we need to hear from everyone, especially the sane and the sensible.
The folks who turn out for me in the general elections. We need their activism on big ticket votes like this. Sure, let the guy you elected sweat out the money for the railroad crossings at the edge of town. When it comes to something this important, you should contact your members of congress."
Me: "That's a lot of work, finding out how and where to do that. You need a pen and paper and stamps and.."
Him: "They're on the Internet. You never heard of Google?"
Me: "How many people Google to write a letter to Congress?"
Him: "You see? This is what I'm talking about. They can reach their senators here:
They can reach the representatives here:
Just put in your zip code and it will take you to the right person. Ok?"
Me: "No one really reads those things, though, right?"
Him: "They really don't read them as much as they count them, and categorize them by subject. Your email does not have to be long. Just tell them what you want, things like the public option. I read a great article which tags all of them for how much they got out of Money during the current election cycle. They should take a look at that and let them know that standing behind me, The Vote, makes them just as big of a deal as all of those special interests standing behind The Money.
Me: "You think that will work?"
Him: "It worked to get Obama elected. We marched him in chanting Change, but unless y'all change how you participate in our government now that the hard work is here, and do as much to backstop the President that you had me put in office, I don't think he is going to last all that long. That's why I'm depressed."
Me: "Well, I wish you luck getting the public out to you on health care reform, Mr Vote."
Him: "Thanks, and it's The, not Mr."
Me: "We should do this more often on big ticket legislation."
Him: "It would be nice."