Still, the town hall was held at the gymnasium of Niles West High School.(where for full disclosure and useless information was the site of my junior high graduation ceremonies) The gymnasium holds about 1300 and the crowd outside who couldn't get in was exponentially larger. I knew I was heading to something huge when in the cab going down Oakton (the street that Niles West is located) there was a traffic jam five blocks East of Niles West. I walked the rest of the way.
There were people representing all stripes of the debate, and in my estimation, most were there on their own. There was a group supporting the audit of the Fed. There was one group that was dressed like Zombies. Their point was that without health insurance all sorts of people are walking around like Zombies spreading diseases. There was one gentleman that made a life size sign of the now infamous chart that the Republicans created.
Most of the action occurred outside the town hall. The two crowds, about one thousand on each side, began chanting and screaming back and forth, with little space between them. Often, members of one side would get in the faces of members of the other side. Those supporting health care reform could be heard chanting things like
we want health care
health care for alland
Health Care Now
on the other side, a popular chant was
ACORN go home
USA, USA, USA...
Spontaneous debates would often insue. Whenever the pro health care crowd would allude to Medicare for instance, the crowd against Obamacare would scream that it's broke. I began debating the merits of health care reform with a lady that held up a sign in favor of single payer. In the middle of that debate, a lady that was originally from France came by. We then debated the positives and negatives of the French system. She pointed out that in her system you can get any treatment you want with no waiting or hassles. I pointed out that France has double digit unemployment and a GDP that has grown at an average of 1% yearly for decades.
Then, a supporter of universal health care approached me. He took the stance that it is a moral imperative of the nation to provide health care to all. I said that smelled of communism and he said it was compassion. This gentleman was the first of the evening to suggest to me that health care is a fundamental right. When I asked him where in the Constitution the right to health care is, he told me that a right doesn't need to be in the Constitution. He pointed out free education, fire, and police, as rights not in the Constitution that are recognized anyways. This was a common theme that I challenged throughout the evening. One individual said the right to health care is drawn from the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. In other words, without health care, none of those three are possible without health care.
At another point, a supporter of health care reform pointed out that those without health care simply show up to emergency rooms and become a burden on our system that way. If they were all insured it would be "cheaper and more efficient". I challenged this assertion because it's simply not true. In reality, keeping someone alive for a long time is much more expensive than if someone dies early because they don't get proper health care. Now, that doesn't mean that we shouldn't take care of those folks, but it's not cheaper. Of course, supporters of health care immediately said that I favor letting people die. I don't, but I also don't think that claiming that covering the uninsured will drop the medical costs they bring to the system is appropriate.
The camera crew that was most in the action was from a web site called Civic Tv. The female reporter, Aemilia Scott, and her camera man could be seen interviewing folks from both sides of the crowd throughout the protest which went strong from about 6:30-8Pm Central time.
Towards the end I spotted three high school girls with pad and paper in hand. Clearly, they were told to come to the town hall and ask questions. I volunteered for some questions, and of course, in the middle of my interview with them, a proponent of health care reform came up. What started as an interview about health care reform, turned into a debate on health care, social security, and domestic policy, between me, a conservative, and a liberal. It all played out in front of these girls as they scribbled notes furiously. The debated turned wonky as I compared Social Security to a ponzi scheme, a term the girls didn't know, and my opponent in the debate suggested that to fix social security all we needed to do was eliminate the cap. (currently social security tax stops at just under $100,000 yearly) At that point, I pointed out that Social Security is like a forced savings and so raising the cap only means raising the amount a wealthy person would get under the current system. So you can see how a high school kid would have no idea what was going on.
I left the girls with this wisdom. Whatever side anyone was on regarding this debate, what happened outside of the Jan Schakowski town hall was democracy in action. In fact, what everyone that participated did was exercise the very freedoms that our founding fathers held most dear. The Revolutionary War was fought for a nation that welcomed the kind of health debate that we saw outside of the town hall.
I also got a debrief from inside the town hall. There were about 30 questions asked. They were splitly fairly evenly. Most of the questions weren't questions but rather speechifying. In other words, people asked questions in order to get their side fired up. Opponents of health care reform often compared it to socialism and that drew a large response of cheers and claps. Proponents of health care reform told stories of relatives and friends that were denied access to health care under our current system. The witness said that on several occasions the two crowds got into each other's faces, but no arrests were made and no one was asked to leave.
As I left the town hall, I couldn't believe how exciting a political event centered on health care had become. I also realized that President Obama has unleashed the greatest national debate I have ever witnessed since I have followed politics. So, anyone that tries to end this debate before its natural course is simply fooling themselves. If President Obama wants to pass sweeping health care reform, what he should do is embrace the debate. The one thing that I know is right and pure among all the proposals is the continued and very healthy debate that continues to happen on cable news, radio, newspapers, and in town halls across the country. It's Democracy in action. It's exactly what the founding fathers envisioned when they dreamed up the nation. What needs to happen going forward is for this debate to continue and run its course. The President should embrace holding the kind of town hall event that would put him somewhere in the middle, assuming Secret Service could do it safely, of a scene just like the one in front of Niles West High School last night.
What is clear is that passions are running high and Americans, of all stripes, have a lot to say on the issue. As such, passing a bill before the people have had their say would just be wrong. Whatever side of the debate we are one, we should all agree that the debate we are now having is a health expression of our Democracy. Furthermore, we should realize that these aren't simply tangential ideas. Politics works best when everyone has their say and all ideas are examined and debated. That's what's happening now, and I firmly believe that once this debate has run its course the best ideas will come from it. If the president embraces the debate, and he allows it to run its course. Then, he will see the way to good health care reform by the end of it.