How can right-wing extremists retain even the smallest shred of credibility when they characterize pre-arranged disruptions of town-hall meetings as legitimate forms of protest? How did hysteria become the norm at a time when only prudent deliberation can make sense of matters that affect the lives and fortunes of main-street Americans? And when did imbecilic rhetoric based on misinformation and deceitful political maneuvering become the standards by which ordinary folks are encouraged to decide their futures?
We had eight years of contrived presidential press conferences and town halls where audiences were pre-selected and dissenters ejected just for wearing opposition political buttons or articles of clothing. But suddenly, we are told it's the Democrats who trample on the first amendment, not the people creating disorder and threatening violence at meetings. Members of the White House staff are accused of trying to stifle free speech by raising questions about comments made by media pundits who say the president is a fascist, un-American or, silliest of all, stupid.
It's bad enough that questions about the president's birth certificate continue to percolate. And Rush Limbaugh's outburst comparing the health-care logo to the Nazi emblem is a deranged talking point that must have taken shape after a long, sleepless night. For the vast Limbaugh-Hannity-Beck audiences, however, acceptance of far-fetched claptrap is buttressed by an alarmingly limited grasp of history and political movements. If listeners were at all knowledgeable, they would be insulted by the expectation that they could swallow such nonsense. On the subject of fascism, they would realize that the fulminations of their heroes actually bear far greater resemblance to Goebbels' "big lie" propaganda in Hitler's time, than anything that informs the President's philosophy or behavior. But accusing Obama of being stupid, that's the last straw - - best not to project one's own failings onto others.
Meanwhile, political opportunists continue to maintain that their shout-outs are acceptable forms of protest. Attempts to take control of meetings are excused by organizers as justifiable because, gosh darn it, people are upset and free speech shouldn't be denied, a right that doesn't seem to apply when those who have called the meeting try to speak. Why it's probably even a really good idea for attendees to take weapons with them just in case someone needs killing. A lot of these folks are a bit long in the tooth for the call to arms by which they have been summoned, but the vitriol they express is ferocious and, if they can stave off cardiac arrest, they could conceivably continue to succeed in preventing serious discussions from taking place.
Disruptions and mindless assertions have consumed the air in much of the debate about health-care reform, and it isn't easy to combat the torrent of false information that rains down on a frightened and confused public. Sarah Palin says the president's plan is a prelude to euthanizing Down-syndrome babies like hers and others claim he would assemble a death tribunal to make end-of-life decisions; the alarm engendered by such false claims often overwhelms truth and reason.
Families that have had to deal with the suffering of a loved one in their last days have always discussed that person's care with physicians. There is nothing unusual about that process; health-care legislation would just make a physician's time spent in conversation with family and patient reimbursable. Some patients elect to have every conceivable effort made to prolong their lives, others refuse further treatment, issue orders not to resuscitate, decide not to be hospitalized or opt for care in a hospice. It's all about choice, not government intrusion. Suggesting otherwise is just political hogwash.
It does seem, however, that the proposed legislation is overly complicated, that it attempts to cover too much and should be pared down and made more easily understood. As it stands now, its length and scope allows opponents to zero in on minor elements, turning smaller issues into major talking points and allowing orchestrated protests to assume far greater importance than is warranted. Whatever the reason, whether it is a political ploy or simply reflects a vast reservoir of ignorance, there is no excuse for striking fear into the hearts of susceptible people. Bill Maher may be on to something when he says "we should forget town halls and replace them with study halls."