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The anti-healthcare-reformers' plan? Little more than 'keep your fingers crossed that you don't get sick'

September 8, 2009 | 11:18 am

You take some time off from work, and thus from following the news minute by minute, so when the moment comes to re-immerse yourself, it can be a bit of a cold-water shock.

Like catching up on those raucous healthcare town halls. I always think of town halls as a kind of courteous, community, Norman Rockwell exercise. What I saw at a few of them seemed to have more in common with George Lincoln Rockwell: the ugly likening of President Obama to a non-American interloper, or a fascist or a communist (sometimes at the same event) for exercising the legal responsibilities of the presidency. There was that wearing of guns as a professed show of supporting the Constitution -- while overlooking or mischaracterizing other parts of the Constitution. What did the guns have to do with healthcare reform, anyway? Testing how well emergency rooms can handle gunshot wounds? (At least we know emergency rooms can handle bite wounds; at a Thousand Oaks town hall, a scuffle between a pro- and anti-healthcare-reform duo ended with the pro-reformer biting off one of the anti-reformer’s fingers. The latter, being 65 years old, would have had the benefit of getting his wound tended through that socialist program, Medicare.)

Anyway, it’s been just as dispiriting to see that some people didn’t come to hear answers. I’m speaking of the few, but the few drowned out many. They shouted down those who really did have questions and healthcare problems. I read that one woman at a town hall with Sen. Arlen Specter made her point, and when asked afterward what she thought of Specter’s response said she didn’t really listen, she was just happy to say what she said. Given that, you figured that some people wouldn’t have put any credence in any answer that didn’t conform to minds that evidently were made up before they even arrived at the town hall.

For the record, if you have healthcare insurance, it’s already being rationed. Most policies have a lifetime cap. No matter what ails you, you hit that ceiling and boom, no more treatment. That’s if you’re lucky enough to have a policy. Sometimes an insurance company, confronted with a policyholder’s illness, finds a reason to boot him or her off the policy. Forget to mention that acne treatment at age 15, and it may be hasta la vista to any coverage at all.

Their voices exaggerated by cable news and the fright-night clamor of talk-radio hosts, the "amplified minority" inside and outside some town halls made me think that for them, it really wasn’t about healthcare at all, but about feeling disenfranchised -- maybe by changing demographics, maybe by the changing nature of work and education in America -- and their answer is casting themselves as victims of sinister forces.

They look around for something that makes them feel they are powerful, and there’s always a conspiracy theory handy – ‘’birthism,’’ socialism, whatever, there’s a conspiracy afoot to fit every grievance, and when they subscribe to that conspiracy, they suddenly feel in the know, that they possess inside information the rest of us don’t. Like the Glenn Beck fan my colleague Steve Lopez encountered, who vowed that he has "seen documentation that states people will be considered terrorists if they wear blue jeans and talk excessively about the Constitution. You're thinking I'm a kook, right? Look it up and you'll find it to be true."

"Look it up" means the Internet, where someone can always find his own strange, sad, ill-informed spin on just about anything, even if he has to put it there himself as his own "proof." Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan used to say that everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.  Some people believe they’re entitled to their own facts, and any actual proof otherwise just proves that the conspiracy is even bigger and that they are simultaneously victims of it and among the select few ‘’insiders’’ to know all about it.

Apart from that, there is, as the New York Times Magazine conjectured, the usual generational gap between a 40-something Obama and 60-something voters who, in addition, were "born into segregated" America and may have "a harder time embracing the idea of a black president."

That word, "ideas," is supposedly what these town halls were to be about.  When Obama speaks on Wednesday evening, he’ll be talking about his ideas and his plans. I hope the people who kept insisting on "answers" and brushing them off when they’re presented are truly listening when he provides them this time. They haven’t so far; instead, they’ve subscribed to a lot of the manipulative, hysterical "death panel" bushwah about healthcare reform. But maybe, when there’s no crowd around, no waving signs of Obama with a Hitler mustache, they might listen.

I can’t believe that there are still people in a country this magnificent who think that illness is a moral failing, punishable by ruin. That tending the sick should be a casino-like profit center. That the entrepreneurial spirit of America should suffer because working Americans feel so chained to the galley oar of their on-the-job healthcare insurance that they can’t change jobs or start up a new business because they couldn’t afford the health insurance, or because a preexisting condition -- theirs or their kids’ -- would bar them from getting any coverage at all.

I can’t believe that they truly want to deny their own grandchildren some of the same benefits and protections that the elderly get with Medicare, that they’d rather see their children and grandchildren beggar themselves just because they get sick. To be without health insurance in this country now means gambling everything: your life, your children’s lives, your savings, your house on one accident, one disease – not even necessarily a fatal one, but a chronic one. Losing that gamble can destroy a family financially as sure as an epidemic can wipe them out physically.

Listen to the man talk Wednesday night and then decide. Let me pull a scare tactic of my own, a real one that has happened before and may again: Decide what you can tell your kids and grandkids when the doctor, the hospital opens up to treat you but shuts the doors in the uninsureds' faces and tells them to come back when they’re 65 -- if they live that long.

-- Patt Morrison

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