publisher's note
August 07, 2009



Communication breakdown
by Bruce Rodgers

America’s ability to have a meaningful, serious and enlightening discussion on any major public policy change is gone.

Blame a lot of things — demagogues on cable TV and talk radio, the dumbing down of news reporting, the pushing of corporate profits ahead of journalistic integrity, elected representatives overwhelmingly respondent to interest groups instead of ordinary citizens, and plain, old stupidity on the part of the people — be it due to a lousy education background or because people would rather embrace a soundbite than read a book or article to understand an issue.

Nothing points to this truth more than what’s happening to the health care reform. After months of being led by the nose by health care lobbyists in Washington DC as to “how” the broken health care should be fixed, House and Senate members are back home going through the “process” of listening to their constitutes.

And already that process hasn’t been pretty.

Health and Human Service Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was heckled and booed in Philadelphia recently and in a widely reported “mob” scene in Austin, TX, Democratic House member Lloyd Doggett abandoned his attempts at dialogue in a grocery store parking lot after being unable to talk with other individuals asking questions about issues other than health care. After being confronted by people opposed to the Democratic Party’s health care proposals, Doggett told the Austin American-Statesman:

“There was nothing grass roots or unorganized about this,” Doggett said. “This wasn’t just people in Southwest Austin responding to the fact that I was there … I would defend their right to protest anything I am for. What I don’t defend and what I did find to be very unsatisfactory is the notion that they would deny other people the right to be heard.”

Local members of the Republican and Libertarian parties, together with such right-wing groups as Americans for Prosperity, Americans for Limited Government, FreedomWorks, Conservatives for Patients’ Rights and Right Principles, encourage believers to “pack the hall” (Right Principles memorandum) and be “in opposition to Barack Obama’s insidious efforts to take over the health care system,” stated Bill Wilson, president of Americans for Limited Government.

In response, congressional members are hesitating sending out general press releases to all media about meetings, instead being selective in notifying people, going for members of supportive groups or particular individuals, or having folks pre-register to attend or sending low-level aides to the meetings to absorb potential abuse and answer questions in a noncommittal manner.

Locally, MO U.S. House member Emanuel Cleaver and Rep. Dennis Moore of Kansas require pre-registration to attend their upcoming town hall meetings. And some congressional members just won’t attend. There’s a question if Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri will be at any of the five greater Kansas City meetings her office has scheduled.

Requiring citizens to pre-register in order to talk and meet with their elected representative or sending an aide — or as one conservative calls a “minion” — to meet with constituents doesn’t say much for the health of this democracy or the responsiveness of the congressional delegation when it comes to ordinary people. All that’s left of that process is for the congressional members to hold on tighter to their campaign benefactors — mainly health care and pharmaceutical industry lobbyists in this issue — and give what they say more weight.

However, some local conservative groups appear more thoughtful in how they approach questioning their elected representative. The Kansas City Pachyderm Club emailed out the following questions to ask respective congressional members:

• Will you vote to require members of Congress to be included on any bill dealing with health care?

• How will the additional 40 million new people on government health care impact the 60 million people already on Medicare? Who will provide the additional service?

• Will illegal aliens be included on the Obama government care program?

• Will the Obama government care program pay for partial birth abortions?

• Who will pay the additional Trillion Dollars for the government care program?

For their part, the Service Employee International Union (SEIU) Missouri/Kansas State Council are asking members to attend the town hall meetings, especially those of Cleaver and McCaskill, “with the intent of raising important healthcare reform issues like affordability and the urgency of enacting meaningful healthcare reform as quickly as possible when members return to Washington.”

The SEIU also seeks to dispel “myths” surrounding current health care proposals, those dealing with “socialized medicine” and whether the Democratic proposals encourage euthanasia or fund abortions.

How informative or disruptive these various town hall meeting turn out remains to be seen. But if you’re a person who slows down to take in a car wreak or enjoys pro wrestling, try not to attend. Ditto if your reading and listening habits remain locked into only a few channels and websites.

Here’s a partial list of upcoming congressional meetings with the public:

Aug. 8, 8-10 am, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, J.P. Coffeehouse, 390 SW Fascination Dr., Lee’s Summit, MO
Aug. 10, 8-10 am, Sen. Claire McCaskill, 711 S Main, Grain Valley, MO and 6 pm, Blue Springs South Library, 220 S 7 Hwy., Blue Springs, MO; Aug. 11. 12 pm, 2320 S Broadway, Oak Grove, MO; Aug. 20 & 21, TBA
Aug. 11, 12:30 pm, Sen. Sam Brownback, Tonganoxie Fairgrounds, Tonganoxie, KS
Aug. 28, 12 noon, Rep. Dennis Moore, Double Tree Hotel, 10100 College Blvd., Overland Park, KS

Bruce Rodgers can be contacted at