Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Character of our Discussion

As a physician, I obviously have a lot of feelings about the current health care "debate" going on in America. Over the years, I have spent a significant amount of futile time ranting and raving about this topic. This discussion has now been taken out of the hands of health care professionals; usurped by Sarah Palin and the gun toting crazies at the town hall meetings. Indeed, in one way I am glad; I find it hard to have a discussion with a kitchen table.
What is disturbing to me, and to a lot of my friends, is the character of this current discussion. It does not bode well for the future of a democratic government that decisions which should be made with logic and compassion should be thrown open to so much vitriol. It is as if we were watching children in a sand box arguing over a toy.

I suspect that some of this is a result of such influences as television (although I don't have one, I hear tell of lots of screaming) and instant communication via texting or cell phone. There is a great leveling going on here with these devices. Some would say that this is a democratic process.

However, because everyone uses health care doesn't necessarily mean that everyone is an expert on how to organize it. This is particularly true when people seem unable to discern that what they are fed via the media is or is not wasted garbage (the second day of my freshman English class in college one of the other students questioned the professor's use of "wasted garbage" by asking him if that wasn't "redundant." That's when I also learned meaning of the phrase "stunned silence.")

I will concede that our form of government is putatively a democracy, though the fact that our Congress is an elected body and the election is determined largely by money makes it much closer to a plutoarchy. But it is not a democracy like ancient Athens where all citizens supposedly had immediate input to a decision. (And, of course, Athens was anything but egalitarian given that only a minor portion of the population was in the position to contribute to political discourse.) Of course it is impossible for individuals to have direct influence on a government that represents 300 million people. You'd never know it by what I'm listening to.

John McCain weighs in with:
"There's more interest and involvement in this issue than I've ever seen in many years on a domestic issue," McCain said afterward. "There's obviously strong feeling and emotions on this issue and I think the town-hall meetings are a very important way to get people's viewpoints and allow them to deal directly with their elected representative."
But strong "feelings and emotions" should not be the basis of policy. I keep thinking about all those meetings portrayed in "Reds" both in America and in revolutionary Russia. They did get pretty feisty. I suppose Democracy in action is a messy thing.

In one way I wish we could just change the system by fiat. But, again, I guess in the long run it is better to have it the way it is going. The only problem is that Barack Obama may cave in completely out of political expediency (2012 you know is just around the corner) and then, well, then it gets pretty nasty.

As the Chinese curse says, may you live... of course you know the rest.

No comments: