When I received my invitation in the mail from Jim Moran himself that mentioned his Health Care Town Hall would include special guest Howard Dean I knew I had to go. I wanted to get front and center, which meant taking a 1/2 day from work to get there early. Doors were scheduled to open at 6:00, and Ron, our local Tea Party organizer alerted us that Moran was bringing in tons of his troops to fill the rafters with “be there by 5:00″ marching orders. Word was that this initially was only open to folks from Moran’s district but they opened up that restriction to bring in more of their people. That seems a bit odd given what blue country we’re in, but I can see Moran not leaving that to chance. I figured that if I shot for 4:00 and got there by 4:30 I would be fine.
I arrive at 4:15, and there’s already a line outside, but it’s not too bad yet. The venue is Reston High School, and the line is forming under the awning. A guy at the end of the line helpfully suggests that I check in with the sign in sheet at the front table. I get up there and see that the “sign in sheet” is just a sign up to get on Moran’s mailing list. Hearing the opposing viewpoints’ talking points always help solidify one’s arguments, so I sign up. Also by the table they have a slew of professionally made signs to hand out to the supporters – no astroturfing here, folks!
Some of the counter-protesters have also arrived, and they’re up with their homemade signs along the driveway. I don’t recognize them, and I don’t see any of the Tea Party organizers, so I just get back to my place in line. Thankfully it’s early enough that the line isn’t too long and I’m able to stand in the shade. Highs were in the 90’s, so I’m glad I had the foresight to bring a bottle of water. “It’s so damned hot! Milk was a bad choice…” Every once in a while their activists come up and down the lines – I sign up for another mailing list and politely refuse a number of offers for signs to bring in. Thankfully another dude standing next to me (pro-Moran, judging that I overheard him talking to another woman and referring to the “Teabaggers” ) also refuses the signage, so I don’t stand out too much. A few spots back from me in line a somewhat heated debate fires up, while a more rational one is going on a few slots ahead of me. I really don’t feel like getting into any debates while I’m waiting, so I brought a paperback where I can bury my nose. A coworker had recommended Terry Pratchett’s “Good Omens”, which I was saving for a trip, but I decided this was a good time to dig in. Between this line and waiting inside I zip through the first 60 pages. Good, light stuff before the coming storm.
While we’re waiting the guy (against the bill) engaged in the calm debates gets the attention of a cute blonde reporter for Politico. She stops to interview him, and asks some pretty good questions, and one somewhat irritating one. She poses the question about whether he has an issue with the incivility and shouting down of the speakers at some of these meetings. He gives the correct answer that he disapproves, but it’s just irritating that after eight years of the screaming hissy fits featuring Bush being hung in effigy, protesters storming stages while screaming down speakers, physical attacks, and Bush drawn as Satan/Hitler now suddenly incivility has become a non-liberal invention.
What a perfect segue! The Larouchies arrive, and of course they have the Obama-Hitler graphics on their signs! I might almost never agree with this particular crew, but you have to admire them somewhat. No matter who’s in power they are always bats*** crazy in their bipartisan protests. We also have protesters on both side walking around. The pros have a sizable banner as they walk around with the standard “What do we want? Health care! When do we want it? Now!” You’d think they would get tired of that same chant after all of these years. The counter-protesters also walk around, but they’re clearly not as experienced at this. One guy has a sign, but holds it tilted just enough and is walking just quickly enough to make it impossible to read what he has on it. His cohort makes the rounds a few minutes later, also carrying a sign and walking by is talking into a megaphone, but he doesn’t always hold it close enough to his mouth and we don’t always hear what he’s saying. “Hold it closer – we can’t hear you!” I smile and shout, not loud enough for him to hear me, but loud enough for the people around me in line to hear. It comes off like I’m making fun of him and they turn to me and say, “No. Really. Don’t help him!” For a a group that’s supposed to be well funded by Big Everything, this isn’t the most professional protest. Perhaps we should hire some professionals from Acorn for pointers, but I doubt we have it in the budget. Aside from this remark I really don’t give much of a hint either way as to which side I’m on. It’s too hot, too early, and politics are best argued over a few beers.
Shortly before we head in a few mid-large sized dudes in bright SEIU t-shirts and orange vests identifying them as volunteers come down the line and hand each person a ticket sheet to fill out their name and optional contact info – for Jim Moran again. Not wanting to take any chances of missing his e-mail blasts, I sign up again. Your name is all that is needed, but these free tix are needed to get in. I’m not sure how many they have to distribute, but by now the line is a lot longer than it was when I arrived. Not everybody is getting in, so I’m grateful that I’m among those who will. The volunteers handing out the signs are among the very few openly wearing union colors, but I do notice some recognition among a few of them. Probably knowing that an event so close to DC will have its share of press coverage, I’m guessing that they’re eschewing the uniforms to look more legit, not to mention that it would be a lot harder to cover up another “Beat me in St. Louis” incident.
The doors open and we shuffle past the bottleneck where we turn our admission tickets in, and are sent to the gymnasium. The floor is filled with folding chairs, bleachers are pulled out on either side, and plenty of press equipment is set up in the back. The front and center seats are filled with Moran’s faithful and the front row is reserved, but I grab a seat near the end of the second row. I do this in the hopes that being near the front would improve my chances of getting picked during Q&A, but that would not be the case. As people sit down to my left I have a couple here in support of HR3200, and to my right a retired woman who is against it. We hear through some buzz that there are boxes in the hallway to drop questions, so she and I take turns going to put ours in while guarding each other’s chairs. It takes a while for the crowds to file in, and on learning that this will be broadcast on C-SPAN I call my Dad & tell him to tune in for the off chance that I get on the air.
While we’re waiting some people get into arguments, and various factions start chanting. At one point the Tea Party gang up in the bleachers starts a chant of “No you can’t! No you can’t!” while the Moranites counter (they had actually launched these sporadically while we qwere waiting) with their own “Yes we can! Yes we can!” One dude in the bleachers near me counters them both with his own “Shout and yell! Shout and yell!” Having the numbers (I’d estimate 2-1) the Moranites win the day and give themselves a brief congratulatory cheer. I go over to Shout and Yell Guy and offer to join him if he does a Bad News Bears-esque “Let them play! Let them play!” He does not end up taking me up on the offer.
Things kick off promptly at 7:00, with a local Rabbi leading a prayer. Unfortunately, he has to weave a few political statements into his talk about praying for Health Care, which draws a few jeers from the audience. I normally would find the jeers to be pretty classless, but weaving politics into a prayer was a tasteless gesture. So be it.
We follow up with the Pledge of Allegiance, and Congressman Moran takes the stage. He speaks a few minutes with some general statements and a few isolated jeers from the crowd before introducing Howard Dean. Dean takes the stage but is shouted down by some a**hats sitting in the center. Whatever they’re chanting is unintelligible anyway, and Moran recognizes their ringleader. Moran calls him out by name and tells the audience that he’s an “Abortion Rights Activist” who had declared his intention in advance to disrupt the rally. The police start to escort him out (they don’t grab him), but on the way out Moran offers him a chance to ask one question if he’ll promise to behave for the rest of the rally. I thought that this was a pretty kind gesture on Moran’s part, and honestly, more than this guy deserved. He declines Moran’s offer and is removed, and good riddance. His incident ate up 15 minutes of Q&A time that we end up losing at the end. When I get home later and tune into the news the FNC reporter also names the guy. Really folks, if you give him the attention he craves you’re only encouraging him.
And if you’re wondering, I was questioning my hearing over Moran calling the disrupter an “Abortion Rights Activist”. The lady sitting next to me heard it too – Moran was probably just a bit flustered.
Moran gets a few mock sympathetic “Awwwwww”s from the audience as he explains how many hours he and his staffers spent studying and learning the very technical aspects of HR 3200. I feel better about career bureaucrats running 1/6th of our economy already!
Dean speaks on the issue, and he actually does a good job of articulating his case – his best moments would come later, though. After Dean speaks Moran goes back on to go through “Six lies that you’re hearing about health care” before moving on to Q&A. He repeats the White House’s talking points pretty well, repeating the basic “More, better, and cheaper” mantra. It’s amazing how many people still want to believe these pie in the sky promises by our government, as if the election last November taught us nothing.
After he finishes these Moran goes to Q&A. He states that he is going to pull equally from the three boxes for submitting questions – For, Against, and Undecided. To his credit, I’d say almost 2/3 of the questions were from the against side, but his answers are still the same unrealistic bunk the we’ve been fed. More, better, cheaper, no rationing will ever take place, Congress will accept the same system as everyone else, Medicare isn’t built on an unsustainable ponzi scheme, etc. A few of the people against the bill get a bit rowdy and out of line, but for the most part it’s pretty civil.
Dean also helps out for a few of the questions that are more technical, and he brings across some really good points. Among them:
- He gets asked if private health care systems have been tried anywhere else. Dean cites a completely private health care system that has been tried in two European countries, Switzerland and one other. But both are so heavily regulated we wouldn’t want them. No mention of trying a real free market solution though..
- One questioner (who also gives the disclaimer that although he was sitting with the rowdies in the middle of the auditorium he’s not with them) asks why there’s no Tort reform in the bill, and Dean gives the kind of answer that gets him in trouble. He explains that it would mean fighting the trial lawyers’ lobby in addition to all of the other bill’s foes, and it would also mean going through another committee (Justice?) for a vote, which would further bog down the bill. More sympathetic “Awwwwww”s from the crowd. A year ago I would have thought that Dean’s mouth made him permanently unelectable to higher office, but just looking at what we have one heartbeat from the presidency makes me wonder if Dean might have a future after all.
- What Dean suggested as a compromise on Tort Reform that something new, though. He mentioned that being both a doctor and a politician he threw out an idea to a few doctors and trial lawyers, and it was so reviled by both that it must have some merit. I don’t recall the term he used, but he suggested a universally accepted set of practices, that if every doctor followed based on their situation, would immunize them from malpractice suits. It doesn’t sound practical to me, given how many variables exist with the human body, but it also sounds like something that warrants further discussion.
- Dean also prefaces one comment “This will get me booed by my supporters but cheered by my opponents” before he gives some major props to the pharmaceutical industry for its innovation. I have to admit I was amazed.
Overall, Dean really impressed me with his knowledge on the topic, as opposed to parroting carefully rehearsed talking points. I really wish that he were at the forefront arguing for this bill. I’m still pretty confident he can’t make me any less dead set against socialized medicine, but if any one person could convince me it’s a good idea it would be Dean. Of course, the cynic in me thinks that’s exactly why he’s not more front and center. The closer one looks at the details the worse everyone sees it is, which is a strong argument for this administration to keep Dean tucked away.
The Town Hall ends at 9:00 after Moran answered most of the questions with Dean helping with the more technical ones. Outside Moran’s people were arranged in a gauntlet for attendees to pass through as they cheered and waved their signs. From what I hear there weren’t any major incidents outside, save for the rather disturbing observation that “This ain’t America no more”.
But at least for another day, it still is.
Crossposted from Brother Bobs Blog