Sunday, August 16, 2009

(Un)Civil Dialogue

The shouters and screamers at this month’s congressional town halls are pretty much the same ones who give me the finger or yell at me during peace vigils. In neither case are they trying to discuss an issue, define expectations or explore ideas. No, they just want to prevent anyone else from doing so because… because…well, because they are correct and anyone thinking or acting otherwise is worthy only of contempt and scorn. The difference between the health care mobs and the drive-by haters is simply time and scale—a fleeting gesture versus a full-on, in-your-face rant played nationwide.

Now, I grant you that a street corner vigil isn’t exactly a forum for extended discussion. It is, however, an exchange of ideas; I, expressing my hope for peace and justice, and passersby, reacting. Many honk and wave, which is always fun. Most just drive by.* But some express hostility with words or gestures, the drive-by equivalent of the health care shouters. Clearly, they impute some dangerous and evil motives behind my action. What is lacking is any willingness to engage me in any sort of dialogue. Their hostility is just part of taking a public stand. At least, they are not physically dangerous.

Even as I may disagree with what I think they believe—remember, all I have to go on is an aggressive gesture—I must still be willing to ask why they believe what they believe and listen to what they say. They, too, are human beings with a free will that I always respect. In turn, I expect the same and from there we can explore and debate an issue. That’s not happening at the August town halls. What’s happening there is political theater. And it works. Everybody and his dog is talking about it.

What’s happening is nothing new. Read the comment strings of all too many blogs and you will find ill-mannered vitriol instead of facts. Ranters and screamers abound in those forums, so why should we be surprised when it boils to the surface, especially when called to action by the usual conservative-corporate activists?. Remember Howard Beale and how he “wasn’t going to take it anymore!”? He was Everyman raging against the corporate manipulation. Now it’s Joe and Jane Sixpack outraged that some Americans believe public action is necessary to deal with a national problem, that they are oppressed by government, that all will be well if only government were to disappear.

It’s all part of a political charade that convinces ordinary people that their interests lie with corporate control and vast accumulation of wealth by a few rather than with the many Americans who share their own economic fears and challenges. It’s an old game; southern politicians bamboozled poor whites into ignoring their common economic interests with black Americans. Corporations pit workers against each other to minimize labor costs. The players and cards may change but the idea is the same—keep the economically disadvantaged separate and powerless. It’s worked pretty well during the past century. Just look at the distribution of wealth in this country.

Speaking to the issue at hand, health care, Those of us seeking reform are not asking for a government handout or a magical solution. We—I, at least—seeking to use our combined strength and resources as a nation to solve a very pressing problem, providing effective health care for all. It’s a massive undertaking and definitely fraught with uncertainty. That’s why health care calls for a public solution. Just as war is too important to be left to the generals, I am unwilling to leave my health care completely to the whims of for profit entities. We’re talking about Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness here. Without health, these unalienable rights don’t exist. Without health, America is not a strong nation. These are all good reasons to address health care as a matter of vital public interest.

That’s what I would tell the shouters if I could get a word in. Since they won’t listen, I’ll tell my representatives in Congress.

* Their dogs almost always react. You can see their heads turning to watch us as they pass by.



Blogger cile said...

Well said, RD. May your voice and the collective voice of reason prevail.

8:11 AM  
Blogger Patrick said...

The average right wing howler knows, but refuses to admit, that his grandchildren will be outworked, out-educated, and out-achieved by the children of all those "lazy and evil" Mexicans.

All they can do about it is screech and wave guns, probably made outside the U.S..

8:24 PM  

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