A conservative visits Rep. Joe Sestak’s health care town hall meeting in downtown Philadelphia
The first thing I saw, from a few blocks down Broad Street, was a news van and others like it. I could see a tangled mess of people and a few signs, but nothing that I could read from such a distance.
In my heart, and even though I knew that this was downtown Philadelphia–a liberal stronghold to say the least–I hoped to see a group of concerned, right-thinking Americans standing up for the Constitution, for our economy, for our children, and against the erosion of our freedom.
Boy, was I wrong. The first thing I heard was the chanting:
“WHEN DO WE WANT IT?”
Go figure. Everywhere else in the nation, Democrats have been working overtime to perpetuate the party line, falsely, that the public health care option will not lead to a single-payer system, countermanding even the taped words of Barack Obama, Barney Frank and others — here, however, people are singing the praises of a single-payer system. Demanding it.
Welcome to Philadelphia. The City of Brotherly Love.
The funny thing is, Philadelphia isn’t even close to Joe Sestak’s congressional district. And while it should be noted that the congressman was invited to speak by the Broad Street Ministry, any of his constituents who live and work in his district would have to drive at least 30 to 45 minutes to attend the event. Philadelphia is Obama Central; for that reason, it didn’t surprise me that upon my arrival to the church at 5:30 p.m. yesterday evening–an hour before the scheduled start of the event–I was behind about six hundred people in line. Obviously, the Craigslist advertisements and other “astroturfing” measures had worked as planned.
And, boy, was there a line. As I approached the front door of the Broad Street Ministries facility, I could see a seemingly endless line of people stretching down to the end of the block and around the corner. The crowd was a good mix of younger and older, black and white and everything in between. I could see a few fellas proudly displaying their gay pride, and a few aging hipsters looking around, awestruck, no doubt digging the obviously organized, modern day activism as familiar as the occasional acid flashback. I counted two sets of bongo drums, and what looked like one miniature sitar.
Toward the front of the line, that’s where I saw the most venom and vitriol. That’s where the hardcore socialists were, the people who would gladly destroy the ingenuity and innovation inherent in our health care system for the sake of “social justice.” Many, it seemed, were college students. Most, it was apparent, came in groups. I counted two people in ACORN shirts, one of which was getting an earful from an event attendee who came to protest the health care reform legislation.
Nearly all of them were sporting professionally made, campaign-style stickers which read “HEALTH CARE FOR AMERICA NOW,” distributed by community organizer wannabes all wearing shirts featuring the Obama logo, or something to do with his “Organizing For Healthcare” group.
Any grassroots effort here was about as natural as the vice president’s hairline.
Most of the folks in line were carrying professionally made, campaign-style signs reading “HEALTH INSURANCE REFORM NOW” or “SINGLE-PAYER NOW,” while some–a minority by far–wielded hand-made posters, like this gentleman, who chose to display his sign merely feet from wheelchair-bound event attendees, some of which may have had special needs. You stay classy, Democrats.
All in all, the line was an experience in itself. While most of the right-leaning attendees seemed to fly under the radar, it wasn’t long until I was outed. Perhaps it was my opinion on the gentleman in New Hampshire who, just yesterday, lawfully carried a firearm to Barack Obama’s staged health care event. Or perhaps it was my failure to see the sarcasm in one liberal attendee’s sign, which read something along the lines of:
HEALTHCARE, SCHOOLS, BANKS, CEOs, AND AUTOMAKERS!
I told the kid that he had a great sign, and asked him why he was wearing an “HEALTH CARE FOR AMERICA NOW” sticker like all the other supporters. As a fierce proponent of a limited federal government, the whole thing sounded great to me, and it took me a moment to get the joke. In fact, it took a gentle nudge and a whisper of “he’s being sarcastic” from a gentleman directly in front of me who looked a bit like an aging hippie before I understood what I was looking at. To me, it looked like a sign that I wanted to carry. By God, if only the federal government would actually remove its hands from my healthcare, schools, banks, CEOs and automakers.
At one point, volunteers for Barack Obama’s “Organizing for Healthcare” group walked along the line with a clipboard and a sign-up sheet for the group. A few folks ahead, the kid with the sarcastic sign filled out the paperwork. Directly in front of me, the woman glanced at the clipboard and form and said to her husband, “gosh, honey, I think we’ve already signed up for this.” Finally, when the Obama volunteer attempted to hand me the clipboard and the form, I said simply: “No, thank you. I’m already on the list.” I don’t think she got it.
A number of different people and different parties were distributing leaflets and other materials, organizations from the political left, the political right, and from the depths of crazytown. First, the International Socialist Organization was handing out a flyer entitled “The Case for Universal Single Payer Health Care,” which included the following (emphasis mine):
The reforms currently being debated between the Obama Administration and the U.S. Congress unfortunately are inadequate given the scale of the crisis. What’s needed is a universal single-payer health care system that puts the needs of its patients first and keeps the corporate-driven profit-motive out of the decision-making process.
Where exactly do these people think that life-saving drugs come from? We’re not beating back cervical cancer because of collectivist goodwill. Tamiflu and the various pharmaceutical cocktails currently fighting the spread of AIDS in Africa don’t just dribble out from the swollen teat of the federal government, after all. The products and pharmaceuticals which make it possible to save and extend lives come from drug companies that spend billions on research and development, only to watch a small fraction of their work reach success in pharmacies and on store shelves. Money, and the promise of it, is integral to the advances in health care rooted in the American system. We have the best doctors because we pay them. We have the best technologies because there is profit to be had in the successful development of those groundbreaking technologies.
The free market is essential to a human race living better and longer than ever. Those among us who want to keep the “corporate-driven profit-motive” out of the system might as well be advocating shorter life spans, higher infant mortality rates, and decreased quality of life for all. But that doesn’t sound as nice.
Second, a group known as Philly Voices for Life was distributing a small sheet of paper encouraging “life, not money” to be the “guiding force” for health care reform. The group, which describes itself on its Web site as being a “diverse group of people,” many of which are without health insurance, highlighted the importance that any health care reform maintain “respect for the dignity and rights of each human being,” that “[p]reborn children . . . be cared for as patients and [that] no funding will go towards their deliberate killing,” and that “[o]lder Americans will not have to fear for their lives.”
Unfortunately, as I’ve written before, when it comes to matters of end of life care, President Obama’s own attitude toward medical procedures that would extend lives for the aging and make the quality of life better for the terminally ill makes the Democrats’ approach to health care reform look more and more like Cash for Clunkers II. From a previous piece here at America’s Right:
Both [the Democrats' health care reform and Cash for Clunkers] interfere with the free market. Both would take serviceable, working entities–in one case, a person, while in the other case, a vehicle–and either significantly shorten its life span, or snuff it out altogether. Both would do so in a half-hearted attempt to foster the increased effectiveness that a younger fleet would purportedly bring to America, as well as the cost savings associated with preventing the need for bearing increased costs associated with those entities–cars, humans–as they advance in age.
Of the aging American population, Philly Voices for Life insists that we should “respect their age” rather than punishing them for it. Man, what a bunch of heartless, racist, violent Nazis.
Finally, a rather skeevy-looking older man wearing a “DEFEAT THE BRITISH EMPIRE” sign and stumping for Lyndon LaRouche. Much like Nancy Pelosi and the left improperly characterized the Nazi Party as being on the political right, some of the liberals in line were overheard to mistakenly claim that LaRouche was “just another nut-job conservative”; in reality, LaRouche ran several times for the Democratic Party nomination, and is said to be a student of FDR’s economic policies. Some of the liberals around me knew this already, and a light-hearted moment came when many of us in the line engaged in a bit of bipartisan laughter, each of us taking turns acknowledging that folks on both sides of the political spectrum really don’t care much for LaRouche or his flunkies.
Every so often, I could see some folks in line engaging in pretty heated debate with one another. Thankfully, my section of crowd seemed a little older and more subdued, refraining from joining the chants and such coming from the front of the line. I’d even go so far as to say that everyone was pleasant and nice. So for me, at least, the conversation in the line was frustrating, but civil. Being a reformed liberal Democrat myself, I knew what to expect from the folks I was standing with, and was at least able to understand what it felt like to maintain a worldview so divorced from reality.
Topics around me ranged from guns to welfare to health care to history and to the Constitution. I didn’t agree with anybody on anything, made sure they knew it, and made sure they understood that I harbored no ill will toward anyone because of their political views. I was determined to keep my volume and vigor level in line with what I was receiving, and while it was maddening as can be to be surrounded by liberals, given the nature of the discourse seen from coast to coast, I think I lucked out in that we could actually have a conversation.
Going back-and-forth with the aging hippie couple in front of me was especially surprising. I listened to them, and they listened to me. They were well-informed, though obviously they looked at the issues in a different way than I did. They shook their head at the president’s botched argument from the other day–that FedEx and UPS are “doing fine” while it’s the U.S. Postal Service which is riddled with problems–and agreed that the “un-American” rhetoric from the Democratic Party leadership was absolutely despicable. I agreed that, with regard to health care, some changes are necessary, especially to billing and record-keeping procedures. All of us agreed that we’d like to see term limits in place, and a Congress that listens more to the people. By the time we all shuffled toward the door, someone behind me even mentioned to me that, until that point, she was convinced that all conservatives were loud and venomous, and that I had made some valid points she had never heard before; I thanked her, and confessed that I was impressed she never once brought up the words “George” or “Bush” during the course of the entire conversation.
Congressman Sestak was waiting for everyone as they reached the door, shaking hands, looking everyone in the eye, and exchanging pleasantries. I mentioned my name, that I was a conservative and that I was a constituent, and he smiled and said: “Jeff, thank you for coming. Really.”
As an aside, I should mention that throughout the event I was extremely impressed with how Sestak handled himself. While I will likely never agree with his stance on any of the issues, there’s something to be said of an elected official who conducts himself like a public servant. I was in overflow seating in a cafeteria area downstairs below the meeting, but we could hear the event and at one point, when a conservative veteran spoke out of turn and was being quieted and ushered away, Sestak reprimanded his staffers, explained that he knew the guy, and demanded that they let him finish. On one evening news broadcast, the congressman explained that he personally knew the gentleman who asked the question, that he had been to several veteran-related events with him, and that the gentleman even had his mobile phone number.
Sestak’s demeanor throughout was refreshingly respectful. I may not like his politics, but the way he interacted with his constituents was a far cry from the rudeness, apathy and elitism we’ve seen in Georgia from Rep. David Scott, in Missouri from Claire McCaskill, in Texas from Sheila Jackson-Lee, and here in Pennsylvania from Arlen Specter, just to name a few. It may be the case that he knew the television cameras would be rolling, and he was acutely aware of his recently announced bid for Specter’s Senate seat, but whatever the reason, it was equal parts surprising and exceptional.
Now, if he would only listen to his actual constituents. In his district.
During the event itself, I was seated in the overflow room with about 200 to 300 people. Most of them were like the khaki-dressed gentleman in the photo above, who walked into the room with a fresh copy of the Socialist Worker newspaper. Some, though, were surprising.
A doctor from Sestak’s district seated next to me couldn’t believe that the congressman was ducking his own constituents by playing to a friendly audience in Philadelphia. I agreed wholeheartedly, and still do. He then explained that he considers himself to be fairly down the middle, politically, but was worried about the effect the health care reform would have on not only his profession, but on the economy as a whole. I got the distinct impression that he was an Obama voter back in November, but was now having second thoughts. He didn’t care for the White House’s new privacy-infringing efforts, nor did he care for the way the mainstream press was giving the administration a free pass on every essential health care question which needs to be asked — one, for instance, being with regard to the downward consequences of mandated coverage even for those with preexisting conditions.
On economic matters, Sestak didn’t make much sense. He spoke about the negative economic impact of the uninsured in America. They tend to get acutely ill, he said, and argued that America simply cannot continue to absorb their health care costs in this economy, especially when we’re “trying to compete with China.” If he’s so concerned about competing with China economically, I asked the doctor next to me, why did he vote in favor of cap and trade?
To Sestak’s credit, he did agree to sign a pledge promising to refrain from voting on bills which he hasn’t read, as well as bills which haven’t been made available ahead of time to the American people. Both the good doctor and I were pleasantly surprised at that.
Still, the congressman explained that, no matter the calls for compromise, he simply would not budge when it came to the public option, an emphatic statement received by this Philadelphia crowd with roaring applause. The doctor next to me groaned audibly, and soon left. I couldn’t help but think about how elsewhere across the country the argument that the disastrous public option would eventually prevail over private insurance–leaving us with a system modeled after those in Great Britain and Canada–is an argument against health care reform while, among the socialists here in Philly, that’s an argument for reform. The church basement was proving as frustrating as the line.
I left a few minutes early, and was delighted to find some protesters outside. Boy, were they menacing and disrespectful. Bobby Hughes was toting his skateboard and sporting a t-shirt that read “Barack Obama: The Economy Terminator” and depicted President Obama in the traditional Arnold Schwarzenegger role. I liked Bobby immediately — this, I thought, must have been what California Democrat Sen. Barbara Boxer was talking about when she decried the protesters to be “too well dressed” to be part of a grassroots movement. I decided to ask the kid a few questions.
AR: Who is more effective at terminating the economy, President Barack Obama or Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger?
Bobby: Both, I’d say, are pretty good. Obama is obviously a slicker, newer model. I think he wants to be as good as Schwarzenegger.
AR: What brought you out here today?
B: Well, first, I don’t live too far away, so I decided to come out here and check things out. I’ve been to a couple of the tea parties downtown here as well, and wanted to make sure that the voices of those who value their freedom are heard.
AR: What’s been the response to the shirt? Any rudeness?
B: There’s been some rudeness, that’s for sure, but mostly it’s been people who are here protesting the health care reform that have said that they like it.
AR: You said that you live around here. Is this Joe Sestak’s congressional district?
B: No, sir. I think the congressman felt he needed to find some support somewhere.
Another gentleman was holding a smallish cardboard sign which read, simply, “I Am NOT Your ATM.” The woman with him held one which read: “INdependence, NOT DEpendence.” The pair were engaged in a debate with an aging liberal in a pink dress of some sort when I walked up. She was making the argument that the so-called “public option” would not result in a single-payer system, and that a single-payer system would be a disaster for us all. The two sign-holders gently explained to her that most of the crowd earlier had been shouting and chanting in favor of a single-payer system; I confirmed it by showing her the photo of the signs. After a few moments, the gentleman with the ATM sign introduced himself as Steve.
AR: Steve, are you a Nazi?
Steve: No, I am not.
AR: Have you seen any Nazis here today?
S: Not that I’m aware of.
AR: Why are you here? Are you here to shout down opposing views? That’s un-American, you know.
S: I’m not here to shout at anybody. I’m just here to let people know that there are opposing views. If you were to look at the way the media portrays conservatives, people like Rush Limbaugh and others, you wouldn’t even know that there are rational people out there making rational arguments.
AR: How has the response been to your sign? Has anyone here in Philly approached and asked for a withdrawal?
S: If they’re in line for this health care plan, they all are asking for withdrawals.
AR: Good point.
Before I settled into my seat in the church basement, I spoke briefly with one of Joe Sestak’s handlers. I pointed out that, while I was aware that the congressman was invited to the church to speak, as a constituent I’d really like to see him in his district. The staffer assured me that, indeed, town hall meetings were in the works.
I hope he’s right. I can understand why these senators and congressman are hesitant to meet with their constituents — there’s a lot of frustration and anger out there, and understandably so. Even though he certainly had a crowd stacked in his favor due to “astroturfing” efforts and location alike, Sestak showed that conducting yourself as a public servant, treating people with respect, and maintaining eye contact rather than looking down your nose, can work wonders in diffusing the emotion and getting to the details of the issue at hand.
Now, on those details, we must never relent. It saddens me to see that we have a generation of people who actively pursue the abrogation of their freedoms and rights in the form of a single-payer system. In essence, we are charged with saving this country from itself. Is it any wonder that many of us feel like strangers in a strange land?