Tuesday night, I took in, in person, two and a half hours of town hall meeting with the same congressman, Sam Farr, in my own town of Santa Cruz, this time. Now, it’s important to understand that Santa Cruz is, overall, a seventies throwback, left-liberal to communist anti-American. To give you an idea, on my long street, downtown, there are only three American flags, two of which belong to me. When I make conservative noises in public, in spite of my considerable expressive talents, people think I am kidding.
I went to the meeting with my wife, under my own power. The only prompt I got is that one local radio station gave the time and place of the meeting on the air. It did so several times. It’s seen as a conservative station. (Full disclosure: I [used to] have a talk-show program on that station, KSCO 1080 AM, every Sunday 11AM-1PM.) Rush Limbaugh did not send me. The local Republican Party was pathetically absent in every respect. If there was any conservative or right-wing organization present, it escaped my attention and I was looking for one. There were no right-wing thugs in sight, with the possible exception of myself, and especially, my wife, Krishna. My wife is in very good shape indeed but, she is slight of built. She has never really divulged her age too me but her hair is all white. The only humans she has ever physically threatened were our children, when they were teenagers, and me, of course. I can’t tell you why she threatened me because I don’t like to brag.
I insist on the unorganized nature of the event in a spirit of helpfulness. The main problem most Democrats, including Congressman Farr and including the President face, is that they cannot conceive of a genuine grass-root movement of revulsion. George Beck, the Fox News-appointed liberal, of all things, said on television that he does not believe that the opposition to Obamacare is “spontaneous.” He is not a dumb man. He is associated in some fashion with George Washington University. I have heard him before and never caught him even in a white lie. Those people can’t conceive of spontaneous political action because it seldom happens on their side. Instead, they rely on tax-subsidized ACORN, and on a variety of radical front organizations.
The Obama supporters seemed only a little more organized than the opponents. They had better signs and many seemed to know each other. They occupied most of the first three rows but I suspect there was no ploy involved. I could have sat in the second row if I had wanted to. One woman standing at the door was handing out three-page leaflets in support. She was careful to say she was not representing anything, that the document only expressed her own views. She tried to scrutinize my face before handing me a leaflet, no doubt to figure which side I am on. I gave her a big marble smile providing no information at all. I had also been careful to dress in a non-revelatory way. I don’t mean revelatory of my enviable physique, but of my political leanings. I was attempting stealth, the better to observe.
Naturally, I didn’t wear my brown shirt and I left my swastika at home. I did it to confuse Nancy Pelosi, a woman who becomes easily confused, it’s true.
The woman’s brochure had a lot of facts and it seemed carefully referenced. However, a number of the websites to which she referred the reader were clearly partisan. Overall, her argumentation was coherent. Yet it stood zero chance of persuading anyone not already in support of Obamacare. She made no effort to address the abundantly expressed concerns of opponents. (More on this later.) I think she was trying, ineffectually, to hand out ammunition to the weaklings on her side before the meeting. There were a variety of signs in the audience, fewer than fifty in all. The anti (conservative) signs were all hand-made. The pro signs were a mixture of hand-made and carefully printed slogans.
I estimated there were 500 people at the beginning of the meeting plus 200 in an overflow space. 700 is a large number in Santa Cruz for anything other than a movie. (There might be as many people at a religious service. I wouldn’t know.) The main venue, in a church, was half-full an hour before the announced beginning of the meeting. It was packed when the Congressman arrived, pretty much on time.
He was introduced by one of the pastors, a woman with politically signaletic short hair. Then, the Mayor of Santa Cruz briefly took over. She is a leftie, of course, but rather well-liked by all. I felt that we were in mildly inimical territory. The Congressman is a jovial man with a sense of humor. He is also brave and hard-working.
Representative Farr began in Santa Cruz with the same rehearsed speech he had given the night before in Monterey. I felt he was on the wrong track from the beginning: not helpful to his side, the pro-Obamacare side, and startlingly incapable of addressing the views of the people opposed to Obama care.
Then people, about one hundred of them, lined up to deliver their two minute speech and/or question. There is not much reason to repeat any of the audience’s addresses but I want to report on the tenor of the meeting. Only about 4/5 got to the mike. The queuing process was orderly and fair.
There was no intimidation on either side. There were catcalls and loud boos, from conservatives mostly. One, who was sitting next to me, was very loud indeed. I believe though not one sound was an attempt to drown out the Congressman, as we see regularly on college campuses, for example. It never even came close to that. There were also many rather effeminate hisses coming from pro partisans and directed at conservative speakers.
Conservatives, the con camp, and liberal/progressives, the pro Obamacare crowd, differ significantly both in appearance and in the content of their speech. Liberals are more flashy and they look better overall. The only speaker with a hat (a white straw hat) over his long hair, gave a little pro-Obamacare address and concluded that the overall solution to any health care crisis was to legalize and tax marijuana. (Disclosure: I agree that it’s a good idea. I don’t think it would make a dent, nationally.) Conservatives dress in a less interesting manner. Many are energetic sharp-spoken middle-aged women. The young among them tend to dress simply and soberly. More of the conservatives are seniors than are on the other side. This is interesting because you would assume Medicare beneficiaries did not have much of a dog in that fight. There were two black men in the audience. One did not get to speak; the other gave one of the best, most coherent anti-Obamacare arguments.
As usual, what did not happen matters most. Contrary to stupid, lazy press reports, the meeting did not look at all like a battle between well-dressed conservatives on the one side and the hard-working poor in work boots on the other side. Although Santa Cruz County is probably one-third Hispanic, with Hispanics doing most of the ill-paid work, I observed no Hispanic presence at all. There were several large, white-on-white families I would classify, with my unusual sociological acumen, as “Oakies” here (“hillbillies” elsewhere in America). They were obviously there to a protest against Obama care. The town hall meeting in Santa Cruz was a solidly middle-class affair. All the people present could have mixed, matched, and possibly mated, at a neighborhood barbecue.
The spectacle rejoiced my heart because it was in the very best tradition of American democracy in action. Yet, I think the meeting was useless for its announced purpose. The two sides spent two hours speaking past each other. I don’t attribute the responsibility for this equally to both sides. (The truth is never in the middle.) The Congressman and supporters of Obamacare came wholly unprepared to address either the economic arguments of their opponents, nor even less, their constitutional concerns. The conservatives gave better speeches because they actually gave speeches while the liberals wasted a lot of time whining, as usual.
Striking ignorance of basic facts was evident on both sides. Ignorance has multiple causes. Mistrust is one of them. Congress could dissipate 90% of the mistrust on the conservative side with a single sentence: Members of Congress will have exactly the same access to health care as every other American.
The disjunction between the two discourses became clear within the first half-hour. The pro camp argued for the human necessity of government-directed, and in some case of single-payer, health care, shored up by horror stories. Many liberal speakers only gave horror stories, often about their own needs and the injustice of their destiny. The old stereotype was confirmed to an astounding degree: Liberals think of Government as an infinitely wise milch cow with teats that never dry up. They resist discussing the cost of good things, of any good things. Many have a singular talent for irrelevancy: By the end of the meeting, there were catcalls offering “no war” as the best solution to the alleged health care crisis health. Liberals are overwhelmingly childish.
Liberals and progressives came ready to counter only the crudest conservative slogans, such as the accusation of “socialism.” They painted their opponents in primitive colors, again, like children. I think they only know slogans and their slogans are mostly boring.
Obamacare opponents included only a small number of anti-abortion speakers. There was no hysteria about government-ordered euthanasia though concerns were expressed about the possibility government rationing might lead there. Conservative arguments were comparatively sophisticated and free of heart-wrenching personal narratives. They focused on disbelief regarding the announced costs of Obamacare. (They were thus joining he Congressional Budget Office, currently directed by a Democrat), and on constitutionality. Libertarian sentiment dominated. The financial consequences of Obama care were the tying principle as you would expect from people worried about economics and equally from people who dislike government growth.
Congressman Farr – a man easy to like, as I said – inspired pity. He came equipped with simplistic bullet-points and was confronted by a barrage of sophisticated questions and arguments. I believe he did not honestly understand most of them. I think he is out of his depth defending health care reform Obama-style. In part it’s because he is ill-informed, superficial, and living in a liberal intellectual ghetto. In part it’s because he, his party, and the President, did not come close to expecting the strong opposition that emerged quickly. They seem to believe their own gross propaganda describing opponents of Obamacare as a handful of ignorant thugs paid by insurance companies and teleguided by Rush Limbaugh.
Missing in the congressman’s handling of his opposition:
The crucial distinction between health insurance and healthcare. (He pointed out repeatedly that obligatory health insurance would be just like obligatory car insurance. Of course, I am unlikely to have a car accident and I am a hundred per cent likely to become sick.)
A grasp on the real nature of the “40 million uninsured” he kept using a final argument that should close the matter for good. (They are largely a myth, though the figure is real, in a superficial sense.)
Any mature comprehension at all of the constitutional and historical fears expressed by opponents of Obamacare. (Listening to him was like listening to a French politician who would not know who Thomas Jefferson was and who would have never read the Declaration of Independence.)
Practical, personal familiarity with conservative rank-and-file, with conservatives who are not politicians or figments of left-wing journalists imagination. (I suspect he would be astounded, in full disbelief, if I talked to him freely over a beer.)
Elementary comprehension of economic objections to Obamacare. (After the meeting, I would have bet he did not understand even the summary of the Congressional Budget Office’s report on the topic.)
The defining moment of the town meeting occurred when a conservative asked him a pointed but simple question about the projected final cost of the proposed national health program. Congressman Farr, always the honest man, replied:
The local newspaper, the Santa Cruz Sentinel, gave a fair report of the event the next morning with a breath-takingly dishonest heading. Perhaps it was torn between fair and factual reporting and trying to align itself on the rest of the liberal press representation of such town meetings as being taking over by thugs.
For the record: I believe we need health care reform. This, for several reasons. Our costs are twice higher than those of the French and we don’t live as long. It’s intolerable that Americans should be forced to keep a job they hate because they cannot afford to lose the health care that’s tied to it. The propensity of insurance companies to turn down people with pre-existing conditions is a real problem so long as we are in an insurance regime.
I also think health insurance is a terrible idea. I place less confidence in our government to administer any complicated, national-level plan than I would in most West-European governments. I fear creeping, soft fascism, using nationalized health care as its main vehicle.
PS Mr President: If you didn’t plant the alarming story about white extremist militias, don’t worry about them. They include only 37 middle-age guys spread over ten states. They have trouble finding their size in camouflage fatigues. They have to walk up hills in the forest because they smoke two packs a day.
Incidentally, tell your whiny Democrat Congressmen who complain about imaginary militias that its’ “supremacist,” no “supremist.”
Mr President: Worry instead about a massive tax revolt that will peacefully paralyze government. That’s the American way, didn’t you know?