Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Inmates Have Taken Over…


(By American Zen’s Mike Flannigan, on loan from Ari)

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.
- William Shakespeare, Macbeth

…but how many of them have health care? If one could safely muzzle them without loss of digits and ask these astroturfers to silently raise their arms if they don’t, you’d probably see more arms in the air than the Wave at Fenway Park during a Red Sox rally. Perhaps more accurately, the mobs and their mentality, for want of a better word, that have almost completely dominated the national debate over health care tend to resemble in their collective mindless mania that obstreperous Rottweiler, one who’s barely worth the trouble he causes but still loved by the family, acting out when he recognizes the all-too familiar route and realizes that Daddy’s driving him to the vet.

They smear the windows with their noses, try to scratch the glass away in a mad attempt to escape the vet’s needles and rectal thermometers and pitifully whine and howl animally to no avail. Yet Buster the Rotty is incapable of curing his own ills other than eating grass, throwing up on the rug and licking his balls. So Mommy and Daddy, the grownups, have to step in and help him stay healthy whether or not he likes it.

The problem with this analogy is that we’re not dealing with an animal who protests getting medical care for his own good but supposedly intelligent human beings who should be smart enough to know that we progressives are doing our damnedest to get them affordable, quality health care, too. Buster the Rotty doesn’t have to be told by some health care conglomerate or Astroturf organization like Dick Armey’s FreedomWorks to act out according to his animal nature.

We’re talking about our fellow humans who are nonetheless whipped up into a rabid dog frenzy and armed with easily disproven talking points like death panels and killing our toll house cookie-baking Grandmas and Downs Syndrome Trigs. What we’re seeing is the counterfeit side of a coin, the analogue of the informed dissent and revolt shown by their Boston Tea Party forebears that last April they comically and ignorantly pretended to emulate.

If their influence never extended beyond the exits of school cafeterias, gyms and town halls, it would be embarrassing enough. Yet the meme of the death panels proved more stubborn to remove than the tar that festooned Rep. Allen Boyd in effigy. We learned just two days ago that during the Congressional recess a small cabal of senators led by Chuck Grassley, one of the most visible fear mongers of Obama’s “death panels”, took out the provision that would’ve subsidized end of life consultations between patients and health care providers.

It would be easy to blame the astroturfers for that but all they did was oblige by letting themselves get whipped up in a faux vox populi of consensus that legitimized Grassley enacting his own desire to do away with one of the few parts of the Senate health care bill that addresses a humane concern. And he gets to look like a true servant of the people even while denying them underwritten end of life counseling.

So Daddy takes a right hand turn away from the vet’s and Buster is relieved for the moment but he’s still whining and growling, while nervously looking out the back window in case the well-meaning doctor should start chasing the minivan like Buster used to do until he made the mistake one day of chasing a parked car.

The Square Wheel Gets the Grease


But that’s not to say the astroturfers haven’t had any influence. By way of Truthout’s William Rivers Pitt, a recent USA Today/Gallup poll came back with some pretty disturbing figures. According to the data they’d collected, “34% say demonstrations at the hometown sessions have made them more sympathetic to the protesters' views; 21% say they are less sympathetic. Independents by 2-to-1, 35%-16%, say they are more sympathetic to the protesters now. ”

Never mind the glaringly obvious fact that these corporately-generated faux-testers are in reality like so many little wouldbe Howard Beales only without a message or an alternative. Never mind that they're comprised partly of Republican operatives like Heather Blish and others brazenly and openly wearing polo shirts with their HMO's logos printed on the sleeves. Never mind that, like the party they're told to champion, they are offering no reasoned, informed dissent, no alternative to the Democratic plan and are disrupting countless town hall forums from coast to coast with acts of thuggery.

We have come no farther of being swayed by mob mentality and we are still so influenced by gross decibels regardless of its lack of intelligent content that we still resemble our blue-faced ancestors as they ran howling through the primeval woods in a primal search for food.

And this is where we liberals and progressives are blowing it. Instead of listening to the dimwits' din and endless writing and talking about it, we ought to be disrupting town halls in our own right but not with violence or shouting but with ceaseless calls for single payer, universal health care. We ought to be taking this rare, almost unique opportunity to address these concerns with our members of Congress who are much more accessible to us right now in this small window of time and not quite as accessible to the influence of the 3300 health and drug racket lobbyists (or about 6 to every lawmaker on Capitol Hill) who constantly darken their doors and shadow their every step.

We ought to be telling them in no uncertain terms that we are not satisfied with the status quo that the Republicans have all but said they want to maintain, that we're not happy in the least with our newly "transparent" government setting up secret deals a la Dick Cheney with the likes of PhRMA's Billy Tauzig to cap reimbursements at $80 billion. That we're not happy with any acceptable "public option" that's not guaranteed to drive down prices or with Sen. Conrad's inane idea of allowing co-ops to compete with the very same HMO's and Big Pharma companies that can afford to spend over $263.4 million in half a year (that's well over half a billion a year of your deductibles, premiums and co-pays at work, in case you were ever curious why a third of the $2.2 trillion we spend on health care every year goes to "operating costs"?) on lobbyists and public ad campaigns or with Barack Obama's incredibly naive idea that all we have to do is negotiate with your employer's HMO to talk them out of loving obscenely huge profits.

But we're blowing it, just as surely as the GOP is blowing it in this health care debate. The inmates have almost completely taken over this collective asylum known as town halls and Buster's talked Daddy out of taking him to the vet's.

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