Now I Understand Why War Happens (a Harkin Health Care Forum Diary)

(Thanks for this first-person account, even though it is frightening. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

 (crossposted from Daily Kos) 

Yesterday, I saw our problem first hand. We are in a world of trouble, people.

Mobs are powerful and wholy beyond reason. Yet, they must be stopped, because they are extremely dangerous. There are a lot of very angry, very frightened people out there, and about 150 of them turned out on a Wednesday afternoon to harass Senator Tom Harkin, shout incoherent political slogans (the same ones that have been diaried to death here in the last week), and to let him know that they are very angry about the idea of government in general and government health care in particular. The total crowd was limited to about 210 by the fire code. 

Senator Harkin opened by thanking the Public Health Clinic in my town, a clinic that provides care for people who cannot afford the big network-owned clinic in town that requires you yo have insurance or cash to walk in the door. He said that $500,000.00 had already been granted and received to institute dentistry at the clinic, and that another $175,000 for more equipment was approved and would arrive in the next week or so.He explained health exchanges very well, and made an eloquent defense of the wellness and preventative care provisions that could well save trillions of dollars in the future. He said Pitney-Bowes saved 38% of costs in their employee health plan by instituting a wellness provision. Harkin is a pro. He patiently listened to every single thing that was said.  Too bad it was 98% invective, racist blather and Paultard quasi-philosophy.

According to the people who basically took over the meeting, the Federal Government is operating a vast conspiracy to enslave freedom-loving citizens, and that civil war is a real possibility. The public option is a trojan horse to inflict health care on unsuspecting citizens who don't want it.

Here's the most rational argument made all afternoon: “The government has never done anything right. Look at Medicare, Medicaid, the Post office, or any other government program and anybody can see how incompetent government is.” The speaker was a wealthy business owner.

The next person read a few words from a provision in a House bill that he said allowed euthanasia for Grandmothers.

Another person made a speech about having lived in Europe for 12 years, and that European style health care will not work in the US because: “The racial makeup of Europe is different than here, so European-style health care won't work here.”

Another woman said she was from Detroit, and she knew a family member from Canada whose baby would have had to wait for 3 years to get a brain scan for a diagnosed growth on his brain. When Senator Harkin said that the plans in the Senate are completely different than both the European and Canadian systems, There was loud hooting and derisive laughter from the audience.

The next person said Medicare was a complete failure. Only then did Harkin show some slight anger. He said his father (a coal miner) told him in 1965 after the passage of Medicare that “now, I won't have to beg for health care anymore.”  Then the same person said the VA was horrible. Harkin, a Vietnam War veteran, said that the VA has been up and down, but that it has helped millions of veterans.  The crowd exploded with laughter.

One questioner asked whether Senator Harkin would sign up for the public option instead of his current government plan.  He said yes, but the crowd wouldn't take yes for answer. Attempting to speak over the commotion, Harkin said that the health care exchange system that will come out of his committee is much the same as the Federal employees plan today. Somebody shouted, “we don't want it!”

After that point all the comments were literally frightening.  One questioner asked Harkin if he realized that passage of a health care bill would force patriots to begin a civil war in the US?  This question was followed by sustained shouting of approval. Then the guy said there would be a million people marching in Washington to take back the country from the socialists unless the bill failed.

The next person said that the entire Federal government was illegal because the constitution prevented the government from doing anything it currently does, and that it is up to citizens to “take our country back.”  He misquoted the first and fourth amendments to the constitution. So, rational discourse was completely absent.

People (like me) who wanted to press for a better bill had no chance to even ask a question. The only consolation is that Harkin has seen it all before. He won't be swayed by fanatics. But what should or could we do about these maniacs?  

My sense is that this is a serious situation. When intimidation works, and it worked here today, it operates like a drug. The maniacs need more intimidation to get the same thrill of power.  I don't think they're gonna go away. I hope Netroots Nation provide some good ideas about this phenomenon, because I've never felt such venom and anger in my life – and I've been attacked personally as a serious candidate for office, and been a target as a local party chair. The last time I saw this level of hatred, it was Dallas, 1963.

About the Author(s)


  • thanks for this diary

    even though it is frightening. The political arguments I grew up having with my Jim Leach Republican father aren’t possible with this crowd. It’s normal for people to have ideological disagreements, but they are in such a paranoid fantasy world.

    Saying passing a bill would “force” anyone to begin a civil war sounds like language abusers use to terrorize their victims (don’t make me smack you again!).

  • It makes me sad,

    and angry, and frustrated, and a myriad of other emotions so strong that I can’t even express it coherently.  I walked into Senator Grassley’s Des Moines office today, politely introduced myself, and dropped off a letter I’d written to the senator.  Even though I went with every intention of asking to speak with a staffer, I got so worked up on the elevator ride to the 7th floor that I chickened out.  I guess part of me didn’t want my kids – who were along for the adventure – to see their mother get all frustrated and incoherent in the face of pat non-answers.  I tend to get weepy when I get frustrated.

  • Experience

    Has anyone experienced the same type of irrational vitriol at public discussions like this before?  I don’t suppose anyone here was alive or knows anyone that was alive during the McCarthy era?  I would like to know their impressions.  

    I think we’ll come through this OK as a nation, but to what extent are these mobs really going to have an impact?  Sure, they’re ruining discussion, but if healthcare does get passed, do they fade away or do they organize and cause civil violence?  

    I think I’ve got more questions than answers on this, so I’m curious what others think.  There’s always the fear that when anger over political issues becomes abusive that something could trigger a civil war, but really, do these mobs threaten us that greatly?  Are we that weak as a nation to be really considering the possibility of civil war.  Should it be so readily available in American discourse?  And, why?

    • the mobs are having an impact

      Idiot Max Baucus removed the “end of life” provisions from the Senate Finance Committee’s bill today.

      Grassley’s distortions should have gotten him cut out of the negotiations, but instead his distortions are carrying the day in a body that’s 60-40 Democrat.

      Also, the White House said today (through Gibbs) that of course they are still working on a bipartisan agreement with Grassley. They are barely even trying to pretend that they care about getting a good bill anymore.

    • off-topic to DrinksGreenTea

      Good to see you around!  

      • desmoinesdem

        It’s good to be back!  I have been out of the country for a year and returned to find that the country is even crazier than it was when I left.  

        I was thinking about going up to Mason City for Harkin’s town-hall, but getting into it with an angry mob is not my idea of constructive discussion.

        In the past year I have learned exactly one thing about American politics: Paul Krugman is right.  

        • if you can learn only one thing

          That’s a pretty important thing to learn.

          Good for you for living abroad–more Americans should have that experience.

  • Thanks for the Kind Words

    My DKos diary tonight is a bit more controversial…..