Supporters were the vocal majority among the 500+ people at Sanford Bishop's (D GA-02) health care Town Hall in Albany, Georgia. Opponents tried reciting Jack Kingston talking points. But Bishop repeatedly asserted that we would have order (assisted by a large number of police). He patiently answered every question, sometimes with a snappy comeback:
No, I wouldn't expect you to trust the same bumbling incompetents to run
a government, but fortunately they're gone, and there's a new sheriff in town.
Reform supporters told of waits and recissions and neighbors without health care who died, choice between health insurance or sending a child to college, doctors asking for insurance before name, etc. They urged Rep. Bishop on. "I am my brother's keeper!" (Applause.)
This was all after Bishop had walked through a summary
of the current health care bill using text handed out to every attendee at the door, plus an implementation timeline and a summary of specific benefits for his district: ...small business credits, 6,600 seniors to be saved from the donut hole, fewer bankruptcies, coverage for 87,000 uninsured people. Bishop's presentation had substance, and whenever someone challenged him on a specific passage in the entire 1000+ page bill, he immediately went to that passage, had it put on-screen behind him, and discussed. Sometimes he rebutted directly; once he said he didn't read it that way, but he would go back and make sure the questioner's concern couldn't happen.
Update: Added links to the handouts from Bishop's web pages.
<H2>Et tu, Sanford?</H2>One person wanted to know if Bishop would trade his current Congressional health care for the reform plan, and he said: "Absolutely, yes." (Applause.)
Of course, that wasn't good enough for some of the crowd, so when it came up again, he still said yes, and proceeded to explain how what he got now was essentially the same as the lowest of three tiers in the proposed reform, which was modelled after the Congressional plan. This still didn't satisfy some, who wanted to know if Bishop would support a bill to require or at least request all Congress members to do the same (a Jack Kingston talking point). Bishop helped the questioner, who said "meat in the game" to get the cliche right "skin in the game". Then he drew the line, said he worked 24/7, health care should be a matter of choice, and Congress had better things to do than pass frivolous bills like that. The questioner wasn't satisified, but most of the audience was.
<H2>Running a Successful Town Hall</H2>Bishop calmly rebutted scare point after scare point. Rationing?
We have rationing right now by the insurance companies.
To a question about why reform was going to be paid for by taxing seniors' health care, he explained the background of needing to do pay for reform without burgeoning deficit, how 1/2 of costs would be paid for by savings in existing system, such as fixing overutilization, streamlining processes, and emphasizing preventive care. More would be paid for by recouping tax cuts. That's right, he's advocating repealing George Bush's tax cuts for the rich. Then he said that taxing health benefits had been considered but rejected. Instead, there would be a surcharge on the wealthiest 2%. There was loud muttering from parts of the audience about how that couldn't collect enough to pay for anything. Which illustrates that many people have no idea how much of everything the top 2% own. (The top 1% of households by income own about 1/3 of everything in the U.S.)
- Bishop could answer at length because he insisted on order and the police were there to help him keep it.
- He repeatedly insisted that a questioner stay at the mic and not interrupt while he answered, yet he did interact back and forth with questioners who could be civil about it.
He stayed on message. To repeated mentions of Canada or England or California or Massachusetts, he said this isn't that; this is our American plan, and proceeded to discuss the plan at hand.
Most of the questioners who were opposed have been frightened by the right wing noise machine. Being exposed to a Democrat who was calmly interacting with them and answering their questions did have some effect.
<H2>Illegal Aliens and Frightened Americans</H2>The woman to my right came in late, insisted on foaming about some video of Obama supposedly saying we couldn't get right of private insurers in less than ten years. Then she insisted on shouting a question from the balcony about illegal immigrants. Which Bishop had already answered. But he acknowledged her and proceeded to answer the question again. My notes here are very sketchy:
This is America; if sick people come to the emergency room they will be treated. (Applause.)
Illegal immigrants work in our restaurants and on our farms. If they get sick, I don't think I want them untreated while they're serving us food. (Applause.)
We don't require proof of citizenship for ERs now, and that won't be any different.
We do need immigration reform, and president Obama has said that that will be next, after we get health care reform settled. We want to make illegals legal depending on length of time, payment of taxes, etc.
But the priority is saving lives and containing costs.
"Good answer," she said. Remember, most of the shouters are dupes. They are your neighbors. You can help them by going and showing them health care reform proponents do not have horns.
<H2>Prevention, Obesity, and Competitiveness</H2>Bishop proactively and repeatedly brought up prevention:
The uninsured adversely impact our nation in terms of lost income and lost productivity. According to the Center for American Progress, Georgia's nearly 1.9 million uninsured are costing our state 4 and a half billion dollars; somewhere between four and a half billion dollars and nine billion dollars in lost productivity. We also have a national security obligation to reform our health care system to ensure that the young men and young women who join our military are healthy and physically fit for service.
Listen to this! In our state, our beloved state of Georgia,
we rank third in obesity for children, ages 10 to 17, (applause)
we rank sixth in tuberculosis cases,
seventh in low birth weight babies,
ninth in diabetes for adults, tenth in the number of uninsured,
eleventh with hypertension rates,
eleventh in new cancer cases,
fourteenth in obesity rates for adults.
These numbers are unacceptable for America, the United States of America, that is supposed to be the first, and number one superpower in the world. It's unacceptable!
And I believe we have a moral obligation to ensure that all Americans, regardless of race, density, geography, and income, receive the healthcare they need, to lead healthy productive lives.
He did specifically mention prevention by name several times, but he also brought up the number one symptom more than once:
There is an obesity epidemic in this country, and our youth and everyone else are paying for it. I want us to become a better America. I want us to be able to compete, not be saddled with debts and drawbacks.
He mentioned national competiveness several times: since the U.S. pays twice as much for health care per capita than any other industrialized country, we are at a competitive disadvantage.
<H2>Misinformation, Fear, and Trust</H2>Bishop also wasn't shy to say "that's misinformation" in response to a questioner who identified himself as a medical specialist who does hip and knee replacements, yet who repeated some Fox News slur.
And to the talking point "cash for clunkers ran out of money so how can we trust the government to run health care" Bishop said:
So cash for clunkers succeeded!
But you'd rather see a sermon than hear one.
We are trying to improve the government and the services it delivers.
But I can understand how you can have a hard time trusting the government.
Especially after the last ten years, when you've been lied, tricked, and bamboozled.
Trust to be restored has to be earned: do what you say you're going to do.
There are people who don't want to allow that.
For south Georgia that's awful straight talk about the former George W. Bush regime and its former supporters who now oppose health care reform. All quotes are my paraphrases. I don't know whether Bishop really said "bamboozled", because the audience was shouting agreement. I do know the fellow next to me said it.
Bishop didn't stop there. He also said:
Fear has been stoked!
Information was put out there to make us afraid.
And he again asked for trust that we will be able to do the right thing for everyone. For everyone: not just Jack Kingston's 10 million uninsured, or just those who already have insurance.
<H2>Beating Swords into Healthcare</H2>By far the loudest applause was for a preacher in the balcony who first said he counted on the Representative to not forget those who had no voice because they were too sick, or caring for the sick, or dead, and that he thought we all had a "debt to God".
I'd rather pay to help somebody than pay for a war.
The preacher then got about half the audience reciting Matthew 25:35-36:
35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,
36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'
I had read this the day before: Health care as a 'moral imperative': Religious leaders want to counter those who have 'demagogued' the issue. Well, folks, it works.
Bishop knows that, and had prepared for the possibility. The preacher said it was time to separate the sheep from the goats (see Matthew 25:32-33). Bishop noted that in his invocation he had already mentioned that.
Then a loud muttering came from the minority downstairs who had sat on their hands during the ovation. I couldn't make out the words, but the next question was:
"Are you pro-choice?"
Bishop answered without hesitation:
"Yes, and I think that's a decision best left to a woman and her God and her doctor."
They had no rebuttal. Even the anti-immigrant woman to my right was nodding her head and saying "yes!"
Christians: do you want your religion hijacked by people who think a topic Jesus never mentioned is more important than what they dimissively refer to as "just the social gospel"? Or do you want to remind people what Jesus actually told you to do?
Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Moslems, atheists, and agnostics: do you want to win this debate? Then don't sneer, and do nudge your Christian neighbors to argue the best part of their religion. In public. Where people can hear them.
<H2>Tort Reform or Health Care Reform</H2>Several people brought up tort reform, or trial lawyer reform. The alleged that medical malpractice suits were the real root of the health care cost problem. Bishop pointed out that Georgia already had passed a law about this, and the result was that doctors' malpractice insurance premiums went down, but that health insurance premiums did not. And that the House had studied this phenomenon in Georgia and other states and concluded that there was no correlation, so tort reform was not included in the health care bill. Calm, unflappable, thorough.
<H2>Why Does He Do This?</H2>Shortly after the scheduled time was up, Bishop noted that there were 19 people in line at the microphones, and he was going to take questions from each of them, and then end it. As mysouthwestgaonline.com noted:
Congressman Bishop remained ninety minutes after the event was scheduled to close in order to answer every question.
And then and earlier he did, no matter how arcane. Precisely how Medicare Advantage (a private Georgia program) is like and unlike the various current forms of federal Medicare and the proposed reform programs. How the three levels of the reform will differ. On and on. Anybody who says this man doesn't listen or doesn't know what he's talking about wasn't there or is misinformed or is lying.
Why was he going to all this trouble after what by several accounts was a hostile town hall earlier that same day in Bainbridge, Ga. (where he nonetheless spoke and answered questions for four hours)?
Bishop said he wanted to hear what his constituents had to say.
At the outset he quoted Edmund Burke's Speech to the Electors of Bristol, 3 Nov. 1774:
"Certainly, gentlemen, it ought to be the happiness and glory of a representative to live in the strictest union, the closest correspondence, and the most unreserved communication with his constituents. Their wishes ought to have great weight with him; their opinion, high respect; their business, unremitted attention. It is his duty to sacrifice his repose, his pleasures, his satisfactions, to theirs; and above all, ever, and in all cases, to prefer their interest to his own. But his unbiassed opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living. These he does not derive from your pleasure; no, nor from the law and the constitution. They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable. Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion."
I'm not a big fan of Burke, but towards the end of the same speech Burke also said:
"If the local constituent should have an interest, or should form an hasty opinion, evidently opposite to the real good of the rest of the community, the member for that place ought to be as far, as any other, from any endeavour to give it effect."
It seems Rep. Bishop does not intend to be coerced by the shouters.
One questioner asked him whether his mind was made up. Bishop said his mind was made up that we needed health care reform, and he was seeking input on the details. That wasn't what the questioner wanted to hear, but it was hard to argue with.
When one questioner made a point of saying he hadn't been paid to come and object, Bishop said that unlike our Senators, he had advertised his town halls so people could come. Take that, Saxby and Isakson! (Isakson typically held a town hall recently in Nashville, Ga., which only Republicans and news media he contacted knew about.)
<H2>What Can You Do?</H2>Bishop said that after hearing from constituents during the recess, he expected Congress would move ahead and do something. Numerous attendees urged Bishop in questions and in audience response to things he said to not be deterred by opponents, to do the right thing, and to help pass health care reform. One quoted Martin Luther King, Jr.:
If you slow up, you end up moving like a snail, and nothing will happen.
Bishop had already taken credit for the Blue Dogs slowing down the process enough to get input from constituents, but he didn't argue with that point.
The specific issue Bishop said he was undecided on was a public option vs. co-ops. He had previously said co-ops were a new proposal and he hadn't gotten all the details yet. He did know about the public option and had already presented it rather forcefully. Several questioners brought up the benefits of a public option and he said he understood. Few from the audience advocated co-ops.
Reform opponents were more for "do nothing it's all fine now", or the Jack Kingston dodge of "the only problem is the uninsured and there are only 10M of them", or socialist! foreign healthcare fails!, or rambling fears that were hard
So if Bishop is listening to his constituents, he should end up even more firmly for health care reform and also for a public option. I'm not in his district and he knows it, but I'm going to write him a letter anyway urging him on. If you are in his district, why not do the same?
You don't have to come up with a detailed question. Willie Thombs of Albany asked what will be the result if we do nothing, which gave Bishop an opportunity to talk about present burdens on national competitiveness, increasing economic costs, more sick people, less prevention, etc.
One of the most eloquent pro-reform questioners was 15 years old.
Gladys Lee from Quitman is, ah, more than slightly older than that, yet she and her red hat rode 2 hours to get there and got interviewed by a TV station.
If they can help, you can help.
To quote Sanford Bishop:
The government is us. We the people!
<H2>PS:</H2>For those who get Civil War Tourette's at any mention of the south, there's no need to comment, just check the last poll item. And if you can stop the twitching long enough, read this. For those with the slightly lesser affliction of Atlanta Tourette's, which occurs at any mention of Georgia, the second from last item is for you. Bless your little hearts!