(New In This Installment: , A More Detailed Review of The CT-02 Town Hall, And A Retraction)
Just a few nights ago, I went to Rep. Joe Courtney's August 6 town hall in Woodstock, CT with this document in hand, and it helped change what started as a completely disruptive meeting into a contentious but functional one where the public option side clearly won.
Below the fold, a brief recap of these top ten health care talking points with five additional rebuttal points, an account of my first town hall experience ever, and how to diffuse disruptions before they effectively silence other viewpoints...
FINAL UPDATE: I added two important new points to the rebuttal list
Meteor Blades and others in the comments have asked me to put the shortened summary of the ten talking points at the top of this diary before the list itself. Please note, this shorter verson is ONLY for situations where something with only a few hundred words will do, like a letter to the editor, or situations where you know for a fact you only have to speak; if you have a bit more time to speak - even a minute in total - the Top Ten list in full is considerably more effective than the summary, and the shorter version should really only be used if absolutely necessary.
A Short Summary of The Top Ten Talking Points On Health Care
- If you've always paid your premiums on time, you're as likely to be dropped by a private insurance company when you need life-saving care as you are to get treated; even if you aren't dropped, they have the ability to overrule your doctor's advice for life-saving treatment and only offer to cover something cheaper.
- Private insurance companies are spending $1.4M a day to kill the public option, inventing phony citizen groups, and trying to scare the elderly about euthanasia and pro-lifers with abortion; they know the only way to kill reform is to get people of good conscience fighting each other, while they laugh all the way to the bank. They don't think very highly of our intelligence.
- The average American family pays $16K/yr on health care while the avg. Canadian family pays less than $2K/yr, and businesses can no longer afford to provide insurance under the current system. Every independent estimate says the public option will SAVE the government money, from anywhere between $150B (CBO) to $265B (Commonwealth).
- So - if you'd rather spend more taxpayer money, bankrupt businesses, AND pay $16K a year for your family's private insurance coverage in exchange for a policy that can be dumped the second you actually need it, then the current system is great for you. If you'd rather spend less, have less of a chance of dying, and want to remove the corporate bureaucrat from between you and your doctor, then a public option is the way to go.
The Ten Health Care Talking Points EVERY PUBLIC OPTION SUPPORTER MUST REPEAT
- When you need life-saving care, private insurance companies only profit by denying you and letting you die. If you have paid your premiums on time all your life, you're as likely to be dropped by your private insurance company when you need life-saving care as you are to get treated. A public option gives you a lifeline.
- Private insurance companies are spending over a million dollars a day to kill the public option by inventing phony citizen groups, and trying to scare the elderly about euthanasia and pro-lifers with abortion; they know the only way to kill reform is to get people of good conscience fighting each other over misinformation, while they laugh all the way to the bank. They don't think very highly of our intelligence.
- We pay more than any other country to be 24th in life expectancy: while the average Canadian family spends less than $2000 a year on health care with no waiting periods for life-saving care, the average American family spends $16,800 a year, waiting for private insurance companies to approve life-saving treatments.
- Fourteen thousand Americans lose their health insurance every day; over forty-six million are currently uninsured.
- Eighteen thousand Americans DIE each year due to lack of health care: .
- Nearly two-thirds of American personal bankruptcies are related to health care costs.
- Businesses - particularly small businesses - cannot afford to provide health insurance for their employees under the current employer based private insurance system, and will be forced to either drop their coverage or go out of business unless a public option is passed.
- One-sixth of all our government spending is on health care, twice as much as any other country spends out of its budget. Our nation pays $2.5 trillion for care costing $912 billion.
- Every independent estimate says the public option will save us money, from saving 150 billion dollars (CBO) to saving 265 billion dollars (Commonwealth). The Congressional Budget Office estimates the current bill in the House would actually leave a 6 billion dollar surplus
- So - if you'd rather spend more taxpayer money, bankrupt businesses, AND pay $16,800 a year for your family's private insurance coverage in exchange for a policy that can be dumped the second you actually need it, then the current system is great for you. If you'd rather spend less, wait less, have less of a chance of dying, and want to remove the corporate bureaucrat from between you and your doctor, then a public option is the way to go. Right now, even if you're lucky enough not to be dropped by your provider when you need urgent medical care, your private insurance company can overrule your doctor's advice for life-saving treatment and only offer to cover something cheaper; a public option would remove that middleman and leave these decisions where they belong, between the patient and doctor.
Any private citizen or elected Democrat making the case for the public option, whether going to a town meeting, speaking on the airwaves, or debating behind closed doors should know the order of these talking points in and out. They're quick, they're effective, and , they're bulletproof. Most importantly, they kill every Republican talking point
Notes: The numbers are purposefully lowballed/rounded down in order to avoid a subsequent conversation devolving into bickering that distracts from the main points being made. The statistic about the average Canadian family paying less than $2000/yr is based on a single Canadian paying $40 a month, times 12 months ($480/yr) times a family of four ($1920/yr).
Rebuttal Points To The Seven Most Common Opposition Arguments At These Meetings
- "Where In The Constitution Does It Say That We're Entitled to Universal Health Care?" - Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution says the Congress must promote the general welfare of the people; how can the Congress say it is promoting the general welfare of the public when fifty people die a day that didn’t have to? Now, I know - promoting general welfare cannot be interpreted as every American is entitled to have the federal government to buy them a house, a bed, and fancy steak dinners every day; such broad interpretations would give Congress absurd powers, just as Madison correctly argued. General welfare does NOT mean the federal government has to provide us with all our necessities - because such a system would NOT be capitalism - there we agree. HOWEVER, Congress’s ability and duty to promote the general welfare under the Constitution, along with the Constitutional provision of equal protection under the law, DOES suggest that Congress has an obligation to see that people who work hard and save responsibly have an OPPORTUNITY to get those necessities; a system that has effectively been rigged over the years so that most people are one emergency away from having their insurance policy dropped and being unable to get coverage due to pre-existing condition, and given no options but death when extensive treatment is necessary, cannot be seen as consistent with Congressional duties under the general welfare clause or equal protection clause of the Constitution.
- "I Believe In The Free Market!" - I believe that competition and more choices are good for the market. A public option is one more choice, and more options are good for the consumer and good for the market. The current bills being proposed let you keep your private plan if you want, and use the public option if you choose. If the public option ends up being crap as some here think, people won't choose it - that's what the marketplace is all about - and if people don't choose the public option because private insurance is so much better, then no money in the program will be spent, and we've lost nothing; so this not a win or lose, but a win or break even, and you have to be pretty timid to be afraid of that.
- "Government Care Sucks; Reform What We Have First!" -Medicare and Medicaid are government run health insurance. They have problems, they need reform, but every poll shows that people are more unhappy with private insurance than they are with Medicare and Medicaid by double digits, and it makes sense to put out the biggest fire first. Most Americans aren't eligible for anything but private insurance anyway, so the idea that good solutions like reforming Medicare and malpractice lawuits are enough on their own is just a slap in the face.
- "Big Money Interests Are Pushing The Public Option!" - If you want to be cynical and vigilant as a citizen against big money influencing the government, YOU HAVE TO FOLLOW THE MONEY. On one side, there are BILLIONS of dollars at stake for the insurance companies, because they have the power to drop or deny anyone they please when they need urgent care in order to maximize their profits - of course they don’t want to give that up. On the other side, you have no financial motive that could even compare - who stands to make billions from the public option? Against the public option, you have a source of money, you have a motive, and you have planning and mass collusion by the insurance companies for decades to block any reforms, documented repeatedly by various non-partisan sources; on the other side, what even compares? Being vigilant against big money interests screwing with legislation that affects the people is VITAL, and I applaud everyone here who does so - but you HAVE TO FOLLOW THE MONEY, or otherwise, for all you know, you're fighting against the very things you think you're fighting for.
- "BOOOOO!!!!" - I'm sure that all the people yelling and booing have been lucky, they've never seen someone get denied life-saving treatment or be dropped altogether by their insurance company - or had it happen to themself. It would be easy for me to say that I hope you become one of those 14K a day who lose their health insurance so you can understand - but the truth is I hope none of you ever have to deal with that, I hope you never have to end up as one of those uninsured fifty people a day who die because they're refused the health care they needed to live.
- "A Public Option Will Put Private Insurance Companies Out of Business!" - No, not if you believe the Congressional Budget Office, who says private insurance companies will get MORE business when a public option is passed: http://www.dailykos.com/...
- "I Am Against The Obamacare Bill!" - There is no Obama bill. Obama doesn't have a bill in Congress, or even a bill in Congress he said he supports, so if you oppose "the Obamacare bill", you oppose a figment of your imagination.
My First Town Hall Experience
Now, to last Thursday night's town hall... this was the first one I ever attended, and I am SO GLAD that I went. Woodstock is a very rural and sparsely populated town in the northeast corner of CT, and one of the redder parts of a fairly progressive district; it's a very beautiful place, as was the view in the room the packed town hall was held in (350 people). As my fiancee and I were walking towards the building, we met a young lady who was very kind and polite; it turned out that she was in the "against the public option" camp, arguing that people should pay for themselves. However, she seemed open minded to my point of view, to my surprise, and when she asked me about my viewpoint and I told her about the flyers I'd brought, she asked to take one and began to read it. For the purposes of this diary, I will refer to her as Reasonable Conservative (for now at least).
The civility that she reflected was a unique attribute among most of those at the meeting who opposed a public option. From the first podium speaker's mention of his first statistic (60 million uninsured), the loud barking and braying began: "THAT'S NOT TRUE". The speaker's next line from his written statement, clearly anticipating some of this, went into how civil discourse is necessary - and people applauded with no booing - but just seconds the yellers continued heckling speaker after speaker at the podium, stopping them from talking for several seconds while many of us firmly turned back to them and said "quiet!" However, as soon as it stopped it would start again. The last lady who spoke at the podium was just a regular citizen trying to talk about her family history on the farm, and her relatives getting sick and dying, and the problems they'd faced under the current health care system; she was nice, genuine, and completely apolitical in tenor - and she got the worst of it. The yellers ate her up, saying things so insensitive ("GET OVER IT!" - hands down the ugliest thing of the ugly things I heard all night, given the moment it was said) that she eventually got frazzled and lost her place, nearly beginning to cry; I can't communicate how cruel they were with their "so what" attitude to everything she said - I felt SO bad for this poor woman.
That was enough for me. The first comment/question the audience was allowed to pose to the Congressman, I was fortunate enough to be given the floor. This is what I said:
"I've been an independent voter most of my life, I've lived in this district for most of my life, and I've never been to a town hall before, but I'm here because I am appalled that the private insurance companies are spending 1.4 million dollars a day to kill the public option, paying off and bussing in phony citizen groups; the insurance companies know the only way to kill reform is to get people of good conscience fighting, while they laugh all the way to the bank. They don't think very highly of our intelligence.
"But I think that this year - this time - they're wrong."
The majority of the room erupted in applause, with only silence and no booing coming from the stunned wingnuts.
For the rest of the meeting, they still did make SOME noise and still talked back when they heard things they didn't like - but no longer loudly and abrasively enough to disrupt the meeting and interrupt anyone who spoke in favor of a public option to the point where the person had to stop talking. Their cover was blown. The meeting remained contentious, with the passion, drama, and - I must admit - entertainment value more reminiscient of a wrestling event than what one would picture as a local Democratic party town hall in sparsely populated area - but a contentious meeting and a dysfunctional meeting are worlds apart, and indeed at opposite ends; one is vibrant democracy, the other is not democracy at all.
GO TO THESE TOWN HALL MEETINGS AND CALL THEM OUT, using the same type of language, particularly including the "insurance companies don't think very highly of our intelligence"; they are not prepared to be called out, and it throws them off their game. There was no doubt leaving that meeting that the public option side in the room had won the debate, and that the wingers actually only represented 25-30% of the room - but the perception could have easily gone the other way had the meeting continued the way it started, with the minority sounding so loud it seemed to be a majority (something the RW has been reportedly been SUCCEEDING at when it comes to town halls that have happened since, as one attendee to the recent NY-20 Town Hall argued in their comment about a recap of the event: "I disagree however that they outnumbered us. I think we outnumbered them but it was close. They are simply louder and better organized than we are at this point" - DON'T LET THIS HAPPEN TO YOU; calling these people out changes them from a fearless amorphous blob of noise that can easily be overestimated to a group of people who stand and applaud at particular comments, ).
I should also add that after my comment, I asked Congressman Courtney a question. It was about how to better address Blue Dog/conservative concerns raised about lower Medicare reimbursal rates for rural health providers and a potential expansion of this effect under a public option, perhaps by adding an amendment that specifically addresses this disparity, in order to get more Congressional votes behind the public option. While my remark was a procedural question about how to best achieve what was ultimately quite clearly a progressive end, the fact that I was taking conservative concerns at face value and suggesting solutions for how to legitimately address them made it impossible for a single person to boo me after I was finished speaking. The Congressman's answer strongly suggested that he agreed such an approach was constructive, and was in fact already being discussed, to my pleasant surprise.
If I had my comments to do over, I would have added a little more on the "good conscience" point in the middle of my statement, and said that: "I've been an independent voter most of my life, I've lived in this district for most of my life, and I've never been to a town hall before, but I'm here because I am appalled that the private insurance companies are spending 1.4 million dollars a day to kill the public option, paying off and bussing in phony citizen groups; while many people on both sides of this issue are here from the district, for and against, people who would bark and yell and prevent others from talking have been bussed in by insurance companies to town halls around the country, so we can tell right away who they are. The insurance companies know the only way to kill the public is to get people of good conscience fighting, while they laugh all the way to the bank. They don't think very highly of our intelligence. But I think that this year - this time - they're wrong." That acknowledgement prevents any comeback from conservatives who ARE from the district from chipping away at the point being made; my failure to do this made my comment an A- when it should have been an A+, so please be careful not to make the same mistake I did.
I also have to mention that if I at all managed to disarm the RW at that meeting, I was at best the third most effective speaker in the audience: it was a rugged steel worker union guy with a patriotic populist sharpness and improvisational public speaking skills of a Jesse Ventura or a James Cornette, and especially a pro-life military family Sunday school teacher with a child she couldn't insure because of pre-existing condition whose incredible comments in favor of a public option were a home run, and made it very clear which side of the debate won that meeting. If I had to guess, I would strongly suspect that the wingnuts left that meeting fairly dejected, and that Congressman Courtney was generally quite happy with the way the meeting turned out (all the stress and drama not withstanding).
By the way, if I had to describe one common factor about my statements and those of the two people I just mentioned, it was the fact that our statements were worded in a way that the winguts COULD NOT BOO US - and didn't. That's the real secret when it comes to scoring points in this environment; historically, it's conservatives who hijack patriotic language that "you just can't boo" to score big points, but they got way less of them in on this night than the pro-public option side.
There was also a gentleman who stood up and said at least the Democrats are trying something, and the Republicans aren't - he was a registered Republican himself (letting us know by ending his remarks with a disgusted "by the way, I'm a member of the party of no!"). He argued during his comment that it's better to try and fail than not try at all, and when the usual suspects objected, he silenced them with "If my arm is bleeding, I'm going to put a bandage around it if I don't have stitches; I'm not going to sit there and bleed to death." There was also a point where a far RW questioner, barraging Courtney about the AMA, was followed by a doctor who introduced himself as a member of the AMA and explained why he supports the public option, causing the far RW guy to look dejected but then immediately forced to applaud the doctor's support of tort reform (the not applauding of which apparently results in forty lashes from Freedom Watch).
I would estimate that while the audience was 70-30 in favor of a public option, the people who stood up and commented or asked a question were closer to 60-40 in favor of the public option; conservatives absolutely got their say - in other words - which is very important, but just as importantly, they were not able to effectively disrupt the meeting's question and answer session either. There were plenty of supportive statements from the crowd about single payer and extended applause afterwards from the majority of the crowd; it's funny - on a progressive site like dkos, I might be debating one of those folks about whether pushing single payer now was the right way to go, but in that room on the front lines of the battle for health care, the single payer advocates clapped for every show of support for the public option, and vice versa. We knew instinctively in that room that this was NOT just an internal progressive dialogue about optimal strategy, and that we HAD to be on the same side against the dead-enders. It was unspoken.
Reasonable Conservative, by the way, was waiting patiently the entire duration of the meeting with her hand up until the very end - not being rude to anyone or being among the yellers. Some people thought the meeting was over, beginning to leave, but I quickly joined the few folks that were trying to wave every one down, and I pointed towards her direction to indicate to people that a question remained to be asked; the fact was that she had been respectful to all the other speakers, and deserved her turn as far I was concerned, so I was going to make every effort to see that she got her chance - even though I knew I wasn't going to agree with her viewpoint, even though I knew that her speaking last would have given conservative commenters at the meeting the last audienword. She began her remarks and let me tell you, she was really effective; she described herself as an independent voter, and was making the kind of cost-cutting arguments and efficiency arguments that many would agree with (despite them being insufficient on their own, they're hard to argue with), and still sounded reasonable enough in her points on tort reform. Compared to the other public options opponents who had spoken, each of whom had uttered at least one absurdity that made the room groan and snicker at them (e.g. "We're becoming a Communist country", "the health care bill forces old people to kill themselves"), she sounded like William F. Buckley in a sea of Birchers.
Then... all of a sudden, at the very end, her voice raised to make her last point, and she went into an UGLY rant about illegal immigration that completely ruined all her credibility in the room among everyone but the wingnuts (offending even a Chilean-American gentleman who had been on her anti-reform side of the argument due to his personal negative associations and instinctive recoiling at anything presented as communist - his mouth gaped open at her comments).
As my fiancee was leaving the building, she overheard the lady formerly known as Reasonable Conservative tell someone else that she in Rocky Hill.
So much for Reasonable Conservatives, sadly.
I made certain to print out a copy of the top ten talking points list for Congressman Courtney and gave it to his aide at the end of the meeting. In addition, I printed out twenty-five copies, and aside from the one I handed out by request going in, I simply put the rest on the table if anyone wanted to grab one; my fiancee, who was in the back of the room, saw them circulating among the crowd, so I think they may have made an impact on their own aside from my standing up and speaking. I strongly welcome and encourage everyone to print out copies of the Word document version I provided a link for at the very top of this diary, and bring them to these town halls with you.
This is a short video of the town hall; in an earlier incarnation of this diary, I incorrectly attributed the video to the Norwich Bulletin, but the video was actually filmed by Free Norwich, a local blog whose author and readership identify as "2nd District Tea Party Patriots" (which explains the spin in the first few seconds of the video; however, I post it nonetheless because the remaining five minutes are without editing or editorialization). My apologies to both Free Norwich and The Norwich Bulletin for the mistaken attribution. The video shows both the union guy I mentioned speaking in favor of the public option, the Chilean guy speaking against (this is before that illegal immigration rant from The Artist Formerly Known As Reasonable Conservative visibly offended him), and Rep. Courtney's answer. It's really important to set the stage here, as this was more than halfway through a very passionate meeting, everyone was incredibly fired up, and you could cut the intensity with a knife; Military Mom had just given the most impactful statement of the night, following a few anti-public option comments/questions in a row that made her comment especially well-timed and devastating, opening the door for union guy to bring it home with a proud and patriotic speech:
UPDATE: Some additional tools to bring with you to town halls include this great diary by NWTerriD that, like the top ten list, focuses on appealing to the needs of the person listening to the argument; also, this image is in many ways the most effective tool I've ever seen to advocate for a public option, and would be ideal if one were to put on a poster and bring to a town hall, as it makes it's case with brevity and clarity through both words and images. I also wanted to add one last thing:
Understanding Why The SEQUENCE of The Top Ten Talking Points List Is So Important
Consider, a super simplified overview of the list would be:
- Don't believe for a second that you're immune
- They must think we're fucking idiots
- You're getting ripped off
- The walls are closing in
- The threat is a mortal one
- People are going broke
- Businesses are going broke
- Our government is going broke
- A public option saves everyone money
- Private insurance is what's killing the patient-doctor relationship
Steps one through three in sequence are what especially open the door for undecided citizens on the issue to listen to the remainder of the argument without glazing over at all the figures. Voters first listen if they think something effects THEM, they resent being tricked, and they hate being robbed - in that order; it's the same strategy Republicans have been using successfully (in their case, with boldface lies) for years: it begins with fear to grab the viewer, then taking umbrage to identify with the viewer, and finally telling the viewer who is taking them to the cleaners now that the trust has been earned. It's not something I pursued by design, but rather something I stumbled upon by accident; nonetheless, perhaps it's time someone applied that strategy honestly for a change, as the genuine sense of fear, umbrage, and thievery surrounding our murder by spreadsheet health care system is thoroughly legitimate and justified, and has to be brought to the attention of the electorate for the desperately needed public option to be signed into law.