Campaign For Liberty
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
So now I can check one off my “bucket list” — I’ve been kicked out of a public “town hall” meeting for doing nothing (complete with police escort). Sweeet.
The meeting was last night, at the Georgia 4th Congressional district in Clarkston, held by Congressman Hank Johnson (D). The facilities of the Clarkston campus of Georgia Perimeter College were used.
A number of us liberty-minded folks (C4L and otherwise), and some GOP faithful showed up to ensure, at the minimum, skepticism accounted for and to see a real debate fostered over the proposed national health care legislation. As far as I know there was no “right wing” or otherwise organized effort to “swamp” the meetings.
By contrast, it was obvious that organized left-wing groups turned out in force. People sporting “Teamster” colors were plentiful, as well as Obama acolytes and “single payer” health care system advocacy groups.
The original time for the meeting was 7pm. Within the day before, it was mysteriously moved up to 6:15 — perhaps to make sure that working people hit the maximum rush hour. No matter; I got there around 5:30, so I got an early-enough place in line to get into the main auditorium. It was pathetically small for the crowd lined up “around the block” to attend the meeting, so only a small portion of the crowd got in. Me and some C4Lers were among them. Others ended up in overflow rooms, having become spectators, watching the proceedings on large TVs.
I first got a bad feeling about the whole event being orchestrated when police started warning people not to bring cameras in. No cameras? At a public meeting on a public facility? That’s odd. Well, they weren’t going to stop me from making a voice recording using my small sansa mp3 player.
My next signal something was “off” was when, upon entering, I had my pamphlets and fliers confiscated from me by the police. No explanation was given, just that I “couldn’t have them”. This annoyed me, because I had been handed some useful campaign materials and other informational leaflets, including one which had bullet points critically-examining the proposed legislation. But I had little choice.
The reason for this confiscation became clear once we were inside and seated: we were given instead “official” materials from Johnson and the Democratic party and the Obama administration, including a glossy promotional piece supporting the legislation. Surprise, surprise.
The first part of the “meeting” was relatively calm. Johnson of course gave his speech on why we needed this legislation, correctly pointing out high costs, declining coverage, and declining quality, but also excoriating health insurance companies for being “profiteering” (taking sure to make note of the executives “getting paid millions”) and saying that “deregulation like the financial sector” was responsible for the problems in the health care sector. It was pretty much the usual left-wing “politics as usual”, with zero admission whatsoever of the role government interference has played in creating the problem (which I would define as a government-protected cartel of health insurers — privatized, but not free market). None of this was any surprise.
We then moved on to the panelists, virtually all of whom were biased strongly towards a “solution” in the proposed, nationalized format. The one exception, second to last, was a Dr. Todd Williamson, from the Medical Association of Georgia, who advocated fixing the tax code, making people’s health insurance dollars portable and as tax-free as they are for employers, and moving to a system where people’s health insurance follows them and is not tied to a job (largely solving the “pre-existing condition” problem). He strongly opposed putting government between people and their doctors, and suggested that like in medicare, a government option for health insurance in general would soon turn into virtually the “only option”. He got a rousing ovation from us and a large portion of the crowd — the first and strongest standing ovation of the night. He was, however, the token dissenter.
We then moved on to two pre-screened citizen testimonials, presented from the stage. One was a woman who had chronic illness in her family with her children, and could not even remotely afford health insurance, with costs reaching astronomical levels (as high as $3000 a month just for premiums, she said). Another was a woman who ran a nursing service, who said she could only afford to provide a very poor health plan for her employees because of the cost. She advocated a public option to remove this burden.
These are of course characteristic problem cases with our current dysfunctional system, and few serious critics dispute these issues. However, no cases were brought forward that illustrate how the problem is due to the tax structure and other regulatory quirks. For example, my insurance premiums (the total of the employer part plus “my” part — both of which are really my part) went down from over $400 a month to about $100 a month — for the exact same high-deductible plan — when I left my last major employer and became self-employed. This case is typical and shows how the inflexibility and tax bias of the employer-linked health insurance system is used to inflate premiums, which in turn inflates all medical costs. But, no coverage of this was presented — perhaps because that would show that the government’s tax code and other aspects of regulation are largely responsible.
In my observation, government is intimately involved in creating the existing broken-down system, but it has not even remotely fessed up to this role (in constrast to Hank Johnson’s blaise assertions, there has never been a health care “deregulation” — only more regulation). That is my main criticism with the proposed health care reform plan and the general debate around the issue — you cannot solve a problem until you understand what caused it, and “evil health insurance profiteers” falls a bit short. I am not necessarily against a government option, as long as it is not structured so that it edges out free market health insurance for most of us. But any government option put in place without solving the structural cost issues of the private portion of the system will inevitably gobble up most of, if not the entire market. This threatens to simply become another area where the government comes in to provide “something for nothing”, but fails to contain costs for society as a whole, and simply ends up printing money to make up the gap — a cost everyone pays but few see.
This has not worked so well in housing or education. Shouldn’t we be worried about the feat being reproduced in health care? That was my concern, at least.
Finally, we moved to floor comments. However, only residents of the 4th District were to be allowed to comment with priority, so I didn’t bother to get up and make my comments above. I decided to just listen.
The comments were an interesting mix. It did seem that a majority complained of health care costs and simply wanted a government option to be provided so they could have these costs eliminated. Some were obviously “career welfare recipients” — so their perspective is inevitably going to be less concerned with nominal prices and more concerned with having expenses in general eliminated. But some were not — such as a gentleman who reported his wife and new baby were kicked out of the hospital a day early after a C-section — because insurance didn’t cover the extra day.
These comments, again, were typical, and certainly represented accurate complaints about the cost and coverage pressures of the existing “system”. These are the things no one is arguing.
But there were some insightful points from some people that I didn’t know, and did not appear to have any particular political affiliation.
One Asian woman was a doctor and supported reform, but expressed concern at the cost, especially given the huge deficits we are accumulating for various bailouts. She also expressed concern with many millions of people still being left uninsured, as well as millions being forced off their existing plans (Johnson and his aide replied that “things had changed” since the earlier version of the bill, and all concerns would be taken care of).
An elderly black man expressed frustration at the lack of “good information” on the proposed legislation, complaining of nothing but “sound bites” from all sides. He expressed a desire for straight “answers” on what is going to happen to medicare (Johnson assured there would be no change).
A black woman seemed peeved at all of the people who had come before her begging for more welfare. She said she had always “supported herself”, and told Johnson to “woman up” to the insurance companies, as they would be the ones to “truly benefit” from this legislation. She suggested that the problems could be fixed without any cost to the federal government with mandates requiring certain aspects of coverage (such as children, domestic partners), and that Congress’s health plan should be offered generally by the same insurers. She made a point that prices seemed to be based on some sort of insurance racket.
A caucasian man announced himself as a Catholic, acknowledged there were problems, and explained that (based on principles borrowed from Catholicism) we should seek to solve them at a more local level before going directly for a national solution (Johnson replied by asserting that the problems could “only be solved at the national level.”)
And perhaps the most important general comment from those queued up came from a gentleman (I cannot recall his appearance) who expressed confusion at the many bills, but asked if we could somehow have a town meeting when a single bill had been settled on, but before it had passed.
Tellingly, Hank Johnson sputtered and bumbled, but finally responded that no, it was not likely we could actually debate the bill that was going to be passed. But, he said, we could certainly have a town hall meeting after the bill had passed!
This drew laughs and hackles from the entire crowd. Johnson responded bizarrely by launching into diversionary criticism of the Blue Dog Democrats and Republicans, capping off with an exhortation that we “have gotta do something” (nationally, of course).
This was perhaps the most telling interaction about how the whole system works: we are to be swamped by a confusion of conflicting principles and directives and details, and end up arguing with each other about things that perhaps are in only one version of a bill or another (or none at all), which may or may not appear in a final bill. Then the bill will be passed quickly by congress, after its usual horse trading, and we’ll be unravelling the monstrosity for months if not years to come. This process belies utter contempt for the citizenry and perhaps reveals that our government has reached a stage where it simply cannot function if proposed legislation is clearly and methodically open to scrutiny.
The session was in its final few minutes when the “big confrontation” happened. While the “critics” had been booing, cheering, and heckling Johnson and others from the floor the whole time (and the whole audience was certainly guilty of applausing and cheering out of turn), it was not until C4Ler Sean Mangieri bellowed out “where in the Constitution does it authorize you to do this?” that some sort of invisible line was crossed. Johnson began responding, fumbling a bogus justification that the “general welfare clause” gives the government authority to do anything, but apparently the order had been given. The police came over and tapped me on the shoulder, apparently thinking it was me who had made the remark; to which I said “I didn’t say anything.” Various people in the audience pointed to Sean, who was sitting next to me, and he was “tapped out” by the police. However, they returned anyway and told me I had to go as well and this was my “last chance”. When I protested again that I didn’t say anything, the reply was “it doesn’t matter, they want you out.”
Two other people we know were thrown out in this sweep as well, one of whom had just been “warned” not to shout any more comments, but was ejected without having said anything additional.
I have the whole session up until that point recorded (audio only; 23MB mp3).
Altogether, I am very disappointed with what passes for “debate” in this country on pressing issues of national concern and relevance to our basic freedoms. It is obvious from this interaction that Johnson, like so many others in Congress, has made up his mind and is acting as part of the party machinery. It seems he expected only to get a “rubber stamp” from “friendlies” in the audience, and inasmuch as that did not happen, police were brought in to intimidate and eject. His comments about not being able to debate the final bill, and not being restricted by the Constitution, really do tell all.
UPDATE: Here is a short YouTube video that a fellow attendee put together over the above soundtrack, with some snapshots of the event and “follow along” subtitles of Johnson’s torturing of the Constitution.
This article was posted: Wednesday, August 12, 2009 at 10:38 am