Monday, August 31, 2009

Don't give the facts, ma'am; health care rallies are about distrusting government

It's crazy: people from the lower half of society, often lacking health care or enduring financial abuse from insurance companies, are overcome with anger about Congress' proposals (plural, as the House and Senate variations need reconciliation) to reform health care. These tea-bagging yahoos, inspired by lies from FoxNews, are disrupting the public aspect of American republicanism, town meetings.

Michael McAuliff did a great job of doing undercover reporting at the rallies, interviewing the hot-head right-wingers. Important also in his "New York Daily News" report (Sunday, August 30, 2009) was the analysis by academic Carol Weisser (University of Florida).
APALACHICOLA, Fla. - In government, they do not trust.

And there's no way they'll let Uncle Sam run their health care - even if they have none. Even if they already have government-run care, like Medicare, and wouldn't give it up.

"I believe this bill is literally a death bill," said Pam Olsen, a mother of four who has no insurance.

And it doesn't seem to matter what officials say to the contrary.

To find out why, the Daily News made under-the-radar visits last week to contentious town hall meetings in the Florida panhandle district of conservative Democratic Rep. Allen Boyd.

The answer was opponents trust more what they're learning on their own from Internet activist sites, e-mails sent around by folks they know and talk show hosts like Glenn Beck.

Some of the fervor can be blamed on the "Astroturfing" of opponents who seed talking points in grass-roots networks.

But town hall attendees - unaware they were talking to a reporter - said they came to their opinions on their own and were happy to point to sources like Beck, the Web-based 9/12 Project and ResistNet, plus their own research. Some said they maintained their own e-mail networks to spread the truth as they see it.

It all produced a powerful and uniform set of gripes in three standing-room only, hours-long forums attended by The News.

In the minds of many folks packing the sessions, federal intervention in health care will only hurt, and could even doom, the nation.

Signs outside Tallahassee's City Hall were especially extreme. "Obama is not a Nazi - he's worse," declared one. "Das Kapital," proclaimed another, renaming the nation's Capitol after a Karl Marx tome.

Inside, people were more polite, but no less afraid.

"I am a single uninsured mother of an uninsured child, and yet still do not want the government involved in my health care," declared a woman who identified herself as "Jane Doe" because she wanted to protect herself and her daughter from "attacks."

"Our country is going down the wrong path right now. It's going down the path to socialism," said Olsen.

"We the people are afraid that we're being taken over," said another woman to loud applause.

Plenty of Floridians back health care reform, and many turned out in Tallahassee.

But outside the state's capital city, few believed anything good could come from health reform. Even when Boyd, their congressman, said their fears were baseless, it didn't make a difference.

Asked in the Gulf Coast town of Port St. Joe if he'd back provisions to help illegal immigrants, Boyd emphatically denied they were covered.

"There is no - zero, zippity-doo-dah, none - coverage for illegal immigrants," Boyd said, drawing boos and disbelief.

Mike Horan, a Medicare and Veteran's Administration health care recipient with a doctorate in education and a master's degree in social work, wasn't buying what he heard from Boyd in Apalachicola.

"If you think that the federal government can do anything better than private enterprise, show me the agency," he said.

Janice Williamson, who has built her own e-mail list, was so unhappy with Boyd's answers she vowed to "do everything" she could to fight his reelection.

The open disbelief, said Florida State University politics Prof. Carol Weisser, marks a new and disturbing trend.

"We know that trust in government is low," she said. "But there's always been this split where people still like their own congressman."

Suddenly, constituents prefer the flood of scary information from TV and the Internet.

"The communications are what's different, and somehow people are believing them, even though they've got someone they voted for and like telling them otherwise," Weisser said.

University of Missouri Prof. Peverill Squire says the fear isn't just about health care.

"People are desperately trying to hold on to what they may have, and they're fearful that whatever comes out of this debate is going to leave them worse off," he said.

"They fear they're going to get screwed."

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