Townhall SmackDown!

OPINION - What do well-intentioned town hall meetings on health care reform and the WWE's "Friday Night SmackDown" have in common? Sadly, more than you might think.

What do well-intentioned town hall meetings on health care reform and the WWE’s “Friday Night SmackDown” have in common? Sadly, more than you might think.

Consider this: both events draw “sell-out” crowds of two opposing sides to witness a staged, rehearsed, public feud that is more about promoting sensationalism than getting down to the real, nitty gritty. At least that’s what I’ve surmised after watching the recent run of town halls held on the Obama administration’s health care reform efforts.

With reports of people showing up carrying loaded weapons, waving signs like “Obama lies, Grandma dies,” and, at least in one case, delivering a tag-team beat down of a conservative African American protestor waving a yellow “Don’t tread on me” American flag. It’s not everything you’d expect but one thing’s clear: it’s show time and the gloves have come off.

A quick rundown of recent town halls called by Rep. Russ Carnahan, (D-St. Louis), Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa) provide clear evidence that anger, whether real or the Wrestlemania variety, has been ignited over hot button issues like health care.

Many have questioned if the hostility displayed at these town halls by mostly conservatives, some independents, and others is real or manufactured. I’d say it’s a bit of both. But even the best K Street lobbyist, his eyes ever on the political road ahead, can only work within the confines of current traffic conditions. And as conservative luck would have it, conditions are pretty bad.

Is the anger real? No doubt. We have some serious issues to contend with after eight years of mismanagement. Is it misplaced? Yep. But that doesn’t matter much. Misplaced anger easily finds a target. Today it’s a health “insurance” bill, yesterday it was a birth certificate, tomorrow (everyday, actually), it will be the economy. Call it what you want. But I call it proxy for anti-Obamaism. And that’s OK too, as long as no one gets hurt and public discourse prevails. Problem is, neither is happening.

What is happening is a lot of distraction. What should be a concerted national dialogue has descended into unjustified shouting matches. And I don’t buy the conservative argument that liberals, who were heavily critical of former president George W. Bush’s policies, are now unable to take the kitchen’s proverbial heat. It’s just not the same, not yet, at least. During The Decider’s tenure, protests were attached to a proven presidential incompetence, a manufactured war for oil, gross human rights violations, a failure to respond adequately to Hurricane Katrina… I could go on.

“Let’s disagree over things that are real,” said President Obama at a recent town hall meeting on health care reform, “not these wild misrepresentations that bear no resemblance to anything that’s actually been proposed.”

Why talk about what’s actually been proposed? That’s too boring. While the following untrue statements do little for Obama’s push for health insurance reform, they are at least entertainingly polarizing. And isn’t that what good politics is all about? But anger, whether based in substance or illusion is never rational and once ignited is extremely difficult to control or contain. Let’s take a look at the top three wildest misrepresentations by tea party protesters:

3) “Obama plans to cut my Medicare!”

The truth: According to a July 28, 2009 CNN Report “Health care reform plans will not reduce Medicare benefits.”

2) “This is not about health care… This is about the systematic dismantling of this country.”

The truth: Proponents of health care reform say change now can prevent bankruptcy —to control spiraling costs that affect individuals, families, small businesses, and the American economy. According to a CNN Report on June 5, 2009, each year, nearly a million people face bankruptcy because of medical expenses.

…and the #1 wild misrepresentation:

1) “Obama wants to pull the plug on my dying grandma!”

The truth: Claims of “death panels” and forced euthanasia are untrue. According to an August 10, 2009 article from the Associated Press: “No ‘death panel’ in health care bill.”

So as the various so-called Tea Party coalitions go about disrupting public meetings and square off with Obama-supporters, it might be interesting if we as a nation can get beyond the heckling hi-jinks and false claims and start to wrestle with words and ideas. Wishful thinking, I guess.