On Friday, August 21, Rep. Henry Waxman showed up at Korn Hall at UCLA to hold a forum on Climate Change. The crowd outside Korn Hall showed up to protest healthcare reform. From a distance the din of healthcare supporters could be heard. The ample sized group of the opposition was drowned out by the Obamanites' war cry of Yes We Can! This wasn't Georgia, Alabama or Montana. It was Los Angeles, where the label of radical right fringe would be a misnomer on the opposition. There were no burning effigies, no unconcealed firearms, and only a single confrontational face-off. With makeshift signs that read "Don't Tread On Me" and "The End of Freedom is Socialism," these conservative citizens were there to rally for their side of the healthcare debate, albeit too often, an ill-informed idée fixe.
Ironically, with not a CEO amongst them, all making a living outside of a boardroom, these everyday Americans melted under the blazing sun for hours to fight, not for working people like themselves who are drowning in rising costs of health insurance premiums, but rather for the health insurance industrial complex. With varying degrees of disdain for the president's healthcare initiative ranging from mild aversion to outrage, common amongst them all was an impregnable fear that government was growing too big to preserve America's brand of free market capitalism.
A few malcontents got into the conspiratorial with talk of the New World Order (George H. Bush) and Affirmative Action, but the majority were fairly reasonable citizens who in a strange way offer an almost necessary equipoise to the left. Mr. Weldon, a 73-year old veteran of the Korean War from Sherman Oaks, CA came to protest Cap & Trade with his son but had a few thoughts on healthcare. He was not worried about the healthcare bill, convinced HR 3200 won't pass because of the public option:
You can't just destroy free enterprise and innovation that is what got us here. People complain about the cost of insurance being so high they want to turn back the clock to 20/30 years ago when the doctor told you to take an aspirin and call me in the morning. You want high tech care with hip replacements, MRI's and such you have to pay for it. You can't compare the price of a Big Mac to filet mignon.
He was not without compassion for the uninsured, which he presumes would be the single beneficiaries of healthcare reform. He had a few ideas of his own about on how to extend healthcare to the needy, and even softened on the idea of a public option if it could be confined to a twenty-percent share of the health insurance market.
Upbraid for big government was amplified by Iris Viktor of Camarillo, a petite 63-year old who looked not a day over 50. For her the president's healthcare initiative was the expansion of incompetent government into private matters with an inevitable consequence of rationed care:
In a government-run system you have to limit care and who is the government to decide who should receive care and who shouldn't. People in Canada are cut off from life extending procedures at 55 and their government decides who gets what. My husband has cataracts and in England you have to wait as much as 8 months for cataract surgery. So for eight months you can't see.
Beyond torte reform to prohibit malpractice suits, and ER reform to limit care for illegal immigrants to life-saving procedures, government has no place whatsoever in healthcare according to Iris.
Holding signs "Stand Together For Healthcare Reform" and "I Voted For Change Not CHAINS," Suzanne Borghei of Santa Monica and Karen Kenney of San Fernando Valley, enjoyed a respectful debate about healthcare reform. There were two points they could agree on: first, that the health insurance industry needed reform; and secondly, that both sides have a right to be heard. They agreed to disagree on how to get to reform and the role government should play in getting there. For Karen, less government and more competition in the free market would solve the health insurance crisis. "Allow me to go to Texas to get insurance so I'm not stuck with California companies and their rates." For Susan, opening up the market isn't enough. "If this current economic crisis has taught us anything, it's that we need more government regulation."
Tad Cronn, 43 of West Hills, CA brought his eleven-year old son, Gabriel, to teach him firsthand about democracy. His major concern is the cost of the "monstrosity of a bill." For Tad the cost of reforming healthcare the Obama way is too great an albatross to bridle his son with. For Ross Lapham, a construction contractor from San Bernadino, illegal immigration is a culprit for rising healthcare costs. Although care for illegal immigrants has been estimated at only $12 Billion of the $2.2 Trillion of annual U.S. healthcare expenditures, porous borders that threaten national Security, were a large part of the health insurance crisis, if there was a health insurance crisis at all. To Lapham, big health insurance was pricing itself out of the market, but he believed that as the market opened up across state lines and more people bought insurance the rates would come down. In essence, he agreed with the health exchange, insurance mandate, and healthcare for illegal immigrants portions of HR 3200.
Speaking with these citizens it became clear that many who showed up to oppose healthcare weren't really there to oppose healthcare at all. They didn't know enough about the House's bill, HR 3200, to genuinely oppose it. Most were responding to what they heard on talk radio and talk TV, while a good portion showed up to protest the values of the Left, as expressed by Rob Luke, an earnest young man from LA County. Rob understands the onerous practices of the health insurance industry on a personal level. When his mother was 61 years old and without health insurance, she ended up in the hospital with heart palpitations. For her three-day stay she was saddled with $20,000 of debt. However, what weighed on Rob just as much as his mother's debt or that fact that prior to the housing crisis two-thirds of bankruptcies in this country were due to medical expenses, was a future where all Americans would get stuck in an inferior healthcare system because companies will dump their employees onto a public system to cut costs. "If a person is unemployed and on the public system, what is to prevent their new employer from keeping them on that public system instead of adding them to the more costly company health insurance plan"? It is a valid question to ask.
Propaganda about publicly funded abortion and government setting standards on end of life care, compounded with a public statement by Barney Frank declaring the public option is the first step toward single-payer system, convinces many on the Right that the country is headed toward an end game that is no good for a free market economy and no good for the moral health of this country.
This skepticism about the type of future the liberal president is going to deliver was at the crux of many of the opposition's concern. Legitimate concerns that future generations of Americans will inherit a country where entrepreneurship is stifled; class mobility, impossible; and healthcare standards, diminished, ranks high amongst them as it does with many on the Left. Yet what is disheartening is that the answers that would alleviate their concerns are too often obscured by party politics that reduce critical issues like healthcare reform to sound bites and infects the constituency with team rivalry. Healthcare reform is likely to play out like the Superbowl. If it's not your team, you don't root for it. Sadly, that means many Americans aren't seeking real answers to valid questions for fear that that the truth might rive them from their party and their identity.
If this group of protesters at UCLA on Friday is a microcosm of town hall protesters in the rest of the country, it is clear that party lines are not likely to budge from the Right and Democrats have no choice but to go it alone if they will pass a semblance of HR 3200 that includes a public option.
"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. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country." Lincoln's Second Annual Message to Congress, December 1, 1862.