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Respect, civility needed in health care debate

If the riotous crowd at Thursday night's Tampa town hall meeting on health care reform is any indication, more Americans are sharing Haterade, an emotional cocktail that does little to help this nation move forward.

Compromise and consensus building, two principles the Founding Fathers drew upon to craft the U.S. Constitution, have been abandoned by these people.

This potable blinds them to reason and logic. It convinces them that achieving a goal comes only from shouting people down and insulting their values.

And it can be purchased at both liberal and conservative bars.

Anger comprises the base of this cocktail, and then it's combined with world-ending fear and outright disrespect for differing opinions.

Depending on the bartender, you may get a twist of religious dogma, a sprinkle of conservative conspiracies or a dose of race baiting to make the concoction more potent.

Then the drinkers of this cocktail enter debates jacked up like a Saturday night college football fan who has been tailgating all day. Town hall meetings like the one State Rep. Betty Reed put together get reduced to spectacles reminiscent of ancient Rome.

It's thumbs up, thumbs down and threats of fistfighting that accomplish nothing.

The shouters and rabble-rousers who booed U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor into an early retreat walked away with a sense of victory, but do they really believe such actions will persuade Castor to vote against a bill that has a government option? Really?

I'm not suggesting that free-speech rights be denied. But if I had the chance, I would ask these folks two simple questions: What are you trying to accomplish? Do you think you're succeeding?

If the goal is to widen the chasm between Democrats and Republicans and generate more distrust, mission accomplished. In the aftermath of these town hall demonstrations, Democrats accused Republicans of manufacturing the protesters and GOP faithful suggested the Dems want to deny free-speech rights and intimidate "average Americans" by taking photos.

Haterade on the house for both sides of the aisle.

In the end, we're no closer to having the kind of health care reform this country desperately needs. The only thing that's dying is meaningful debate, and such unbridled vitriol has seldom, if ever, resulted in something good.

It would have been so refreshing if someone had solicited Kathy Castor's opinion on the recent op-ed piece that Republican Congressman Adam Putnam wrote for the Times. Putnam's ideas deserve consideration, but Democrats won't be browbeaten into doing so.

What we need now, more than ever, is some real cooperation. President Barack Obama and Democratic congressional leaders would be wise to take a breath, slow down the process and create a true bipartisan panel to examine health care, but they may not because they don't want to be seen as capitulating to those who have forsaken intellectual engagement.

Of course, it won't matter if people keep binge-drinking Haterade and going for the kill. In a sober moment, they would be wise to ask why the so-called thought leaders seem so eager to defeat dialogue.

Is it because they care about America, or because they're driving up ratings and boosting their egos?

That's all I'm saying.

Respect, civility needed in health care debate 08/07/09 [Last modified: Saturday, August 8, 2009 7:31am]
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