Pete's Blog

Town Hall

On Saturday Congressman Jay Inslee held a Town Hall meeting at North Kitsap High School to discuss health care reform. Emily Groff, one of my favorite singers, shamed me into going by saying it was my patriotic duty and, considering what I've seen of the healthcare debate so far (and what I know about North Kitsap County) I expect she was right. Several hundred people filled the High School gym, but organizers had been pretty careful with their planning. You had to give your ZIP code to get in, which may not have kept out every outside agitator but at least forced people to think about this as a local event for citizens of Kitsap County. Anyone who wanted to ask a question had to write their name on a card and put it in a box marked, "Pro," "Con," or "Undecided." Cards were chosen at random from each box in sequence, so no one view could predominate. People carried signs, roughly half in favor, half opposed, although more of those opposed looked commercially printed. There were a few shouts and taunts early on, but these were met by shouts and taunts of our own and died down pretty quickly. The questions themselves (regardless of perspective) were voiced with thoughtfulness and civility. Inslee was a composed and sympathetic figure throughout the two-hour meeting and I'll bet he prepared himself pretty thoroughly beforehand. At the start he brought out the High School's cheerleading squad to lead us in the Pledge of Allegiance and then asked for a moment of silence for a Kitsap boy killed in Afghanistan last week. In fact, he talked a lot about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, both to celebrate the troops and remind us where the current budget deficit came from. The crowd seemed evenly split between left and right, with some interesting differences of style between the two camps. In their questions the righties tended to concentrate on the constitutionality of government-run health care and the fact that the government had never made a profit in anything it had tried in the past. (Inslee parried this fairly easily by pointing out that leaving heathcare to profit-making organizations had gotten us in this fix in the first place - that "rationing healthcare" and "faceless bureaucrats making decisions about grandma" were toxic features of the current system.) Applause from the right tended to be sharp, loud, full of cheers and whistles, but short. Those on the left tended to talk about personal experience with the health bureaucracy and won applause that was quieter but more frequent and longer-lasting. Toward the end a few of the more professional-looking hecklers seemed to realize that their opportunity was slipping away and increased their catcalls. Then a woman stood up (since the hecklers couldn't tell who was for-'em and who was agin-'em until the question was out, they had no choice but to listen) and said she had been a VA nurse for 22 years and the care in THOSE government hospitals was excellent. Then she said that she appreciated the opposite viewpoint but wished people would stop "playing politics" with it, which got sustained, building applause, people standing one by one until roughly half the room was on its feet. If the folks who had come to disrupt the meeting had had the ability to feel shame, they would have felt it then.

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