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Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Ironic Symmetry of the Health Care and Olympic Debates

It's quite a perspective to be a conservative in Chicago in August. That's because I've been able to witness the uproar over the Olympics coming to Chicago up close and witness the uproar over the health care bill from afar. The symmetry between both debates is both ironic and remarkable just how similar the two debates have unfolded over the month. This was the latest scene at a recent town hall event.

An upset Mark Carter, 35, stood in the audience and demanded that Mayor Daley's Olympic bid team, assembled on the dais, set aside some of the projected 310,000 jobs -- some temporary, others permanent -- expected to be created by the Olympic Games for North Lawndale residents. He also asserted that the beleaguered West Side community wasn't getting the help it needed because "the alderman sold us out."

If that scene sounds familiar, it's because there are similar scenes all over the country at health care town halls. Only this one was at a town hall for the Olympics. While the issues are different, the anger and frustration is the same. In Chicago, the citizens are as up in arms over the Olympics being brought here as the citizens of the nation are about health care reform.

In fact, there is even symmetry in the town halls. The month of August has seen town halls everwhere in the country in which citizens have confronted their representatives over health care reform. In Chicago, the city, or should I say the Olympic committee, is wrapping up its 50 wards in 50 days "tour". The scene just described is common to most town hall meetings on the Olympics. In that way, it's no different from the anger that is portrayed at most health care town hall meetings.

In both debates, the government has a set of talking points. In the health care debate, we all know them. If you like your insurance you'll keep it. This won't be a government take over. We'll hold the insurance companies accountable. No one will go broke getting sick.

The city of Chicago also has a set of talking points. The games won't cost the city one dime. It wil create 315,000 jobs. The economic growth will be spread fairly. The city's poor and moderate income folks won't be displaced.

In both debates, the citizens aren't buying the talking points because the government has lost credibility. In the health care debate, it has happened quickly. The stimulus was over promised. The bailouts of AIG, GM, and the banks were universally disliked. Cap and trade is universally disliked. All of these were shoved on to the tax payers despite their objections. The culmination of universally disliked policies shoved all at once has culminated in this revolt against health care.

In Chicago, the process was slower. It took years and years of corruption, mismanagement and waste. It all culminated last spring with the debacle over the parking meters that caused residents to pay exponentially more to park their cars. Then, the mayor pronounced that despite pledging not to spend any city funds he would sign a contract guaranteeing the city would pick up the tab for any cost overruns. (which everyone expects) So, the citizens of Chicago aren't buying Chicago's assurances that this won't cost any tax payer money, any more than the citizens of the U.S. aren't buying the government's assurances that health care won't be a government take over.

The main difference in dynamics is the dynamics of the government itself. In D.C., the citizens revolt has caused the peril of the legislation. Even with overwhelming majorities in both chambers, the Democrats are having trouble figuring out how to pass the bill over the loud objections of the citizens. In Chicago, the mayor has no such troubles. The city council is little more than a rubber stamp. Despite the overwhelming disapproval of the citizens of the city, the city council is afraid to stand up to the mayor. They fear him more than the citizens they serve. Only Alderman Flores has stood up to the mayor and it's still an open question if that challenge is legitimate. So, while the citizen revolt has had an effect on the national health care debate, it hasn't had an effect on the Olympic debate just yet.

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