The Protest Shoe on the Other Foot

Kudos to the The Honolulu Advertiser for noting today that Hawaii is the only state not holding public town hall meetings on health care reform during the August congressional debate.

According to the piece, Rep. Mazie Hirono, for example, is instead holding private meetings with small groups, which she explains on her Web site with this: “My purpose is to have the kind of meetings that are really fruitful as opposed to somebody just coming in and disrupting and yelling.”

Hey, I totally understand. Sometimes, when you pursue unpopular policy decisions, and then speak in public, there’s the off chance that an angry person might throw a shoe at you. Better just to pick and choose your audiences in advance.

But, shame on Advertiser reporter Greg Wiles for playing straight man to our pro-reform Congressional comedians who want to delegitimize citizen opposition by casting it as some kind of bogus conspiracy. Here is Wiles, early in the piece, assisting with a nice set-up: “There have been allegations the sometimes-confrontational moments [seen in Mainland town halls] have a made-for-TV quality that may have been fomented by opponents to various ideas being brought up in the reform debate.”

“Allegations” is squishy journalese for “something bad is happening here, you should be concerned.” What might that bad thing be? According to Wiles, it’s the possibility that people who disagree with certain policy ideas might organize to oppose those ideas in public forums. Oooo. The democratic process. Scary!

Also, note the passive voice Wiles uses in “there have been allegations.” Allegations by whom? Well, the very same pro-reform legislators who are being opposed, hardly a disinterested party! Here is the punch line to Wiles’ set up, from Rep. Neil Abercrombie’s spokesman, Dave Helfert, talking about the angry phone calls Abercrombie’s office is getting from constituents: “They’re being scared by organizations that make them fearful for their health care.”

Yes, Helfert. That organization is known as Congress, which seems bent on transforming the most personal and pervasive aspect of society and the economy via unread, hastily assembled bills. Everyone can see that, and a lot of people are alarmed by it.

Well, maybe Hawaii’s reps are afraid that if they hold a town hall, they might gaffe it up along the lines of Pres. Barack Obama. At his recent health care town hall, he tried to reassure Americans that their current health insurance carriers would not be threatened by the government entering the insurance market. Then he joked, “UPS and FedEx are doing just fine. … It’s the Post Office that’s always having problems.”

Never mind that he has his history backwards—the post office existed first, then UPS and FedEx came along, to do better the things the post office could not do. When even the president disses government bureaucracies, we can hardly be surprised that people are frightened by the possibility that their own health care might go postal.