Tone-deaf politicians in action

By Kent Ward,
Posted Aug. 14, 2009, at 6:38 p.m.

The intense national debate concerning health care is a complex news story that has more angles than a Len Deighton spy novel and shows promise of plot twists yet to be scripted.

One angle that has become apparent in the days since the issue has moved the death of pop singer Michael Jackson off the nation’s television screens involves tone-deaf politicians and their seeming inability to hear their constituents — a condition often exacerbated by a failure to engage their brains before putting their mouths into gear.

It seems not to occur to politicians such as Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi that when they dismiss as “un-American” the actions of citizens protesting President Obama’s proposed health care reform they do so at their peril. The “un-Americans” talked down to by the pols will likely remember the insult come the next election. Politicians having difficulty hearing them from the public stage now may hear them better from the privacy of the voting booth then.

As I write, a Houlton radio station is playing an old country tune that counsels “You’ve gotta stand for something, or you’ll fall for anything.” The sentiment expressed seems applicable to the health care debate.

The average bear watching the melodrama unfold has to be struck by the double standard of it all and ponder a couple of obvious questions: How can it be un-American for one group of citizens to demonstrate its displeasure with the proposed health care restructuring but patriotic for another group to have protested, say, the Iraq war? How is it dirty pool for one group to organize resistance to Obamacare, but not unfair for another group to organize support for the plan?

As for the rampant foot-in-mouth disorder inclined to infect politicians, even presidents are susceptible. This one showed symptons of the malady when, acknowledging that he did not know the facts in the case, he said publicly that Cambridge, Mass., police officers had “behaved stupidly” in the arrest of a Harvard professor. The predictable fallout from the remark forced him to mitigate the situation in a well-chronicled kiss-and-makeup “beer summit” at the White House. Then he got hammered by the dry crowd for promoting alcohol and setting a bad example for kids.

You needn’t have graduated summa cum laude from the Down Home School of Hard Knocks to understand, the minute you heard the words come out of the man’s mouth, that Mr. President would come to rue his blunt assessment of the Cambridge Police Department’s arrest procedures.

On Tuesday, while promoting his health care agenda before a screened audience at Portsmouth, N.H., Obama — working without a net, which is to say without the favored teleprompter — appeared to falter again.

Responding to a question concerning a public option portion of the contemplated reform and the possibility that private insurers might ultimately be forced to throw in the towel and leave health care entirely to the government, the president said this:

“If the private insurance companies are providing a good bargain, and if the public option has to be self-sustaining, then I think private insurers should be able to compete. They do it all the time. I mean, if you think about it, [private mail carriers] UPS and FedEx are doing just fine, right? It’s the post office that’s always having problems.”

The comparison of a revamped government-run health care system to a government-sanctioned postal system which is “always having problems” was not exactly a ringing endorsement of the proposed health care legislation by its endorser-in-chief. Not surprisingly, opponents of Obamacare seized the opportunity to pile on the president, his promise that no one would be pulling the plug on Granny notwithstanding.

Obama also drew the wrath of doctors when he said the present system encourages them to opt for expensive operations in lieu of promoting less-lucrative preventive care and emphasized his point by grossly overstating the remuneration to physicians for certain surgical procedures.

It was not a good time for working without the presidential net. At week’s end, polls showed that the spirited debate at town hall meetings throughout the land has strengthened opposition to health care reconfiguration as envisioned.

Poll results did not indicate how many of those polled are registered un-Americans.

BDN columnist Kent Ward lives in Limestone. Readers may reach him by e-mail at olddawg@bangordailynews.net.

http://bangordailynews.com/2009/08/14/opinion/tonedeaf-politicians-in-action/ printed on July 30, 2014