Communication is first casualty in health care debate

Amid the national debate surrounding health care reform comes a reminder of Strother Martin's remark to Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke.

"What we got here is (a) failure to communicate,'' the prison captain tells the inmate.

To communicate effectively, a message must be delivered and be received. Considering our local congressional delegation, it is reasonable to ask if anyone is receiving the message. The communication failures are mounting.

In July, U.S. Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite, R-Brooksville, accused Democrats' health care legislation of telling senior citizens to "drop dead.''

That is famous rhetoric in Republican politics. It is a line that helped end former President Gerald Ford's political career when he promised to veto a federal bailout for the financially ailing New York City government. A tabloid headline paraphrased the president's statement as "Ford to city: Drop dead'' and Jimmy Carter reminded voters of Ford's stance during his successful run for the presidency the following year.

Today's 24-hour cable television news cycle means Brown-Waite didn't have to wait until her 2010 re-election campaign for the comeback. MSNBC's Keith Olbermann did that Monday evening when he played a clip of Brown-Waite stumbling on a speech and suggested the congresswoman's words were ghostwritten for her by the health care industry. And, oh, by the way, the health sector had contributed almost $370,000 to her election efforts over the years.

Ouch.

She hasn't garnered such unflattering national attention since France balked at invading Iraq and the congresswoman pandered to the freedom fries crowd by suggesting the remains of American soldiers killed during World War II be exhumed from France and Belgium.

Her constituents deserve better than inflammatory rhetoric.

Six hours before Olbermann hit the airwaves, Donald Di Dia of Hacienda Village in New Port Richey opened his mail to find correspondence from U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor. The letter, dated July 28, responded to Di Dia's earlier telephone call to the congressman's Washington, D.C., office in which he expressed his full support for the health care reform legislation proposed by House Democrats.

Di Dia, a retired educator from New Jersey, does not strike me as someone who has trouble communicating. He is a member of MoveOn.org, contributes to BoldProgressives.org and is not shy about voicing his opinion. He figures he calls his congressman about six times a year to delineate his positions on pending issues.

I must point out that Bilirakis does not angle for the outrageous sound bite as does Brown-Waite, but he does take considerable pride in his constituent work. But that failed him on this occasion. The letter from Bilirakis stunned Di Dia.

"Dear Donald,'' it begins, "Thank you for contacting me to share your opposition to government-run health care.''

It even promised that Di Dia "may be certain that I will remember your comments about health care reform when the House considers health reform legislation in the future. I also will share your comments with my House colleagues, who will benefit from your views.''

A failure to communicate indeed.

Di Dia does not believe his views will be shared by Bilirakis, not when he disagrees with his position universally.

"It doesn't make me feel very confident in them,'' he said in an interview. "How can a congressman send this stuff out to someone?''

Di Dia is not alone. Bilirakis' district and Washington offices have received more than 6,000 e-mails, letters, faxes and telephone calls on health care reform. About four of every five oppose HR 3200, a spokesman said. Turns out, the numbers were skewed. At least temporarily. About 100 or so of the correspondence/conversations were recorded incorrectly.

Those people, including Di Dia, received the wrong form letter in response.

A second correspondence, sent via e-mail, apologized for the goof and assured the constituents' sentiments had now been archived properly.

The first letter to Di Dia went to his address on Segundo Avenue. He chuckled that Bilirakis' staff spelled his surname and address correctly.

"They got everything right,'' he said, "but my cause.''

Communication is first casualty in health care debate 08/04/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 4, 2009 6:24pm]

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