Monday, August 10, 2009

Report on Senator Ben Cardin's health care town hall, 8/10/09

(Apologies for the poor picture quality, all I had was my cell phone)

Tonight I went to Senator Cardin's town hall meeting at my alma mater, Towson University. The meeting was scheduled for 7, I showed up at 5 as I wanted to get far enough up in the line to get into the 500 seat auditorium. It was a good thing I did, too. I was maybe 100-150 people back from the door, and people closed up fast behind me. The turnout was generous, I estimate maybe 1500-2000 people showed up. The door to the Fine Arts building was on a rise, people not in line were standing down below, lining the road and waving signs and flags.

I thought the turnout was very good considering the temperature was 95 with a heat index of over 100 at 5PM. I brought a gallon jug of water and drank a little over half of it in line. Most of the people in the line around me were against Obamacare, but a few union members were just one or two spots behind me. They were cordial, but talking to them was like talking to brick walls. Example:
Me: "Government health plans have caused tremendous financial problems in every state where they have been implemented: Tennessee, Maine, Hawaii, Massachusetts.."
Union Woman: "Do you know why South Carolina is bankrupt?"
Me: " (!?) No...."
UW (triumphantly): "Not from health care!"
Me: "Oh kay....."
Meanwhile, a couple of their companions in their bright yellow union shirts were going down the line handing out fliers saying "All we're asking for is an honest, respectful conversation in there. That's what Democracy is all about." The fliers warned of "TEABAGGERS and DITTOHEADS" and went on in that vein. At least they were honest and respectful, right?

Those of us in line were told that we would not be allowed to bring signs into the meeting, and this was enforced upon all participants, pro and con, which was fair. One thing did bother me a bit. We were told by a security guard that we could put our signs over next to the building and pick them up on the way out. A number of people did so, and shortly thereafter, a different security guard went over to the signs and ripped them all up and threw them in a trashcan. I questioned him about his actions, stating that we had been told to put them there to pick up on the way out. He was mildly confrontational about my questioning him: "That's littering! It's a crime!" His whole attitude radiated disapproval over the signs. I told him that we had been told that we could leave them there to pick up later, to which he responded: "Do you want me to get a cop to tell you it's littering?". I answered in the affirmative, and he went away 'to get a cop' but never returned. *shrug* Petty Napoleon. No big deal, they were just signs.

At about 6 the doors opened and we went into the auditorium. I have to give the Cardin camp credit, they let the first 500 people in, they didn't pre-admit a large group of supporters to pack the house the way some Congresscritters are reported to be doing. It was a packed house.

I got a seat in the front row, right side, but later a lady came down and told me the seat I was in was supposed to have been reserved for her as she was staff. She moved me to a seat marked "Reserved for elected officials", front row center stage. I never knew it was so easy to get elected! I sat next to Bill Frank, the Republican delegate from Maryland's 42nd Legislative District.

At 7 Senator Cardin came out. Before he was introduced, he has a young mother tell a sob story about how she had a special needs child, and it took her 2 months to get her health insurance through MHIP. Senator Cardin took the stage and spoke for about 20-25 minutes, running through a slide show of Democratic talking points about Obamacare. The reform on the table, he said will provide coverage for 47 million uninsured people, require preventative coverage for everyone with no co-pays, cover mental health treatment the same as physical ailments, mandate low deductibles, eliminate yearly or lifetime maximums on insurance plans, allow you to keep your coverage if you liked it, not requiring you to go on the public plan, eliminate exclusions for pre-existing conditions, cap the ability of insurance companies to raise their rates and it would cost considerably less than our current system. I think there was something in there about everyone getting a pony that poops candy too, I'm not real sure, I just know that he promised everything to everybody at a much lower cost. Oh, and that meant taxes wouldn't go up either.

The crowd was....skeptical. Nobody started any chants to drown out the Senator, although the crowd was quite vocal in it's expression of disbelief with some of the more outrageous claims. Their numbers probably mirrored those outside, 3/4s opposed, 1/4 supporting. I have to give Senator Cardin credit for soldiering on, he kept to his prepared notes (although I believe he truncated them a bit, he clicked through the last few slides of the power point presentation really fast) and promised to answer questions as soon as he finished his remarks. People queued behind the mics to ask their questions, and Cardin stood up on stage and answered them. Unfortunately, his answers were not......helpful. Hell, I'd like to say that at times he flat out lied, but I don't want to cast unjust pejoratives at the man. Still, I find it hard to reconcile what he said with what I know to be the truth. Example: Asked if the plan would cover illegal aliens he said "Absolutely not". Fine, except earlier he has touted Obamacare as being needed to cover "every one" of the 47 million uninsured, and 20% of those people are illegal immigrants (as per the Census Bureau report that that number is based on). Example: Asked what section of the Constitution provided the legal basis for government takeover of the health care industry in America, he replied "Article 1", which is....questionable at best. (Article 1 Section 8 does enumerate the powers of Congress, but health care isn't in there and I would counter that the 10th Amendment clearly puts the kibosh on claims that it is within Congress' powers. I know, I know, I'm out of the mainstream on this one, and the SCOUS doesn't agree with me either, but damnit, I'm right!) Example: When it was my turn, I asked him how he would ensure that my employer wouldn't drop the health plan that I like (the one he had repeatedly promised that I'd get to keep) if my employer determined that it was more cost effective to drop the plan and put me on the public option. His answer was "We've done studies that reveal that it would be most unlikely for an employer to do that". Huh? The Lewin Group has released a study determining the exact opposite, and plain common sense backs them up. If it's cheaper for a business to shunt it's employees to a public option, why wouldn't they?? It doesn't make sense! Example: One person asked the Senator "Could you please answer my question with a simple yes or no Senator? Are you willing to put yourself and your family on the same plan that you want for the rest of us?" Senator Cardin: "I'm 65, I'm covered by Medicare. So you see, I personally am already covered by a public option." He then droned in that vein on for about 30 seconds while the crowd called for him to answer yes or no. He didn't.

And so it went. Lots of talking points, not much of substance (to be fair, no final bill has gotten to the floor, but Cardin never manned up and said "This is what I want: Point 1, point 2, point 3, etc..". Lots of dodging the specifics in favor of platitudes. He did put himself out there on the firing line, and he didn't stack the deck, so props to him for that.) When the meeting was over, I went outside. Amazingly, there were still hundreds of people lining the street with their signs and flags. People were driving down the street, past the demonstrators, then making a u-turn and driving back, honking and waving their signs. It was like a scene straight out of American Graffiti. The union folks had gone home, all that was left were little islands of pro-Obamacare supporters in a sea of their opponents. It was, however, all very civil. The pro-Obamacare folks were standing in knots, talking amongst themselves and sometimes civilly debating their opposite numbers. The anti-Obamacare folks were waving the Gadson flag, cheering, driving and honking. The atmosphere was very similar to that at a homecoming rally, everyone cheerful and determined. The temperature had dropped, there was a very real feeling of solidarity amongst the people left, and standing amongst them, one really could feel that the people there were truly and honestly reveling in being a living example of grass roots democracy in action. Petitions were being signed, informative fliers were being distributed, numbers were being exchanged, promises were being made and, for at least one fleeting moment on a hot August evening, ordinary citizens of the United States of America were turning out to Make Their Feelings Known.

Sign taped to a guardrail outside the event.

Honking and yelling in support of representative democracy.

One of the islands of pro-Obamacare folks in the sea of opposition

This is the lighted sign in the back of a pickup that was circling back and forth. Ehrlich is Bob Ehrlich, the former Republican governor of Maryland. When he was elected in 2002, the state was facing a large budget shortfall. In four years he erased that deficit and when he was voted out in the anti-Bush fervor of 2006, he left a huge rainy day fund behind. His successor, Democrat Martin O'Malley, promptly spent that fund on wasteful entitlements and Maryland is once again in the red. This truck got large cheers each and every time it circled around.

President Obama and the DNC have gone to great lengths to tag people who oppose their takeover of the health care system as an unhinged angry mob. That's a label that many are happy to sport.

Again, I apologize for the poor quality of these pictures. You'd think a $300 cell phone would be able to take hi-res images, but apparently not. To sum up this post, what we saw in Towson today was true grass roots activism. The citizens of America don't like what's being forced down their throats. Good on them for finally, FINALLY, waking up and smelling the obamanation before them. If they (we) continue to care, we might actually make a difference. Keep up the good work people, the fight for our rights, the fight for our lives, has just begun.


The PBS show Inside Washington featured a clip of me questioning Senator Cardin at the town hall meeting. You can view the clip here, the moderator goes to me at about 6:30. Notice that I am classified as "not wacky". High praise indeed.