Saturday, Texas Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) held his “Healthcare Town Hall” in the chapel of a Houston funeral home, which I attended. Despite Poe’s insistence that they had held other “Town Halls” there before (a wealthy Houston suburb consisting almost entirely of Republicans), the choice of venue was clearly deliberate. Political theater at its most shameless. The standing-room only crowd could of been much better accommodated in any of several High School auditoriums in the area.

Upon my early arrival, we assembled in the front room where I struck up a conversation with a nice-enough older man who claimed to have attended a similar Town Hall the night before. Because I couldn’t tell from our casual conversation, I tactfully asked what side he was on. When he found out I was from “the other side”, his genial nature fell away. “You’re not here to cause trouble, are you?”, he asked me (because, as you know, Obama-supporters are the trouble-makers). I said I was there “to keep him (Poe) honest.” His attitude abruptly changed and his voice grew louder. “Ohh!, Ohhhhh! Honest!” Suddenly, I was a “Socialist” that wanted to “turn America into Cuba”. By now, he was shouting, but I calmly asked if he had “a problem with our Socialist police department or our Socialist fire department, which obviously threw him for a moment. I told him “personally, I’m glad I don’t have to give a creditcard number before the fire department comes to my house.” His response was to attack the Post Office.

Amazingly, it is worth noting that HE… my angry new friend… brought up (and we agreed) that a better solution would be to “just open up Medicare to let anyone buy in rather than create a whole new bureaucracy”. I think if President Obama moved in that direction, he’d peel away more than enough Republicans to pass a bill with the “bipartisan support” he so desperately craves. A few more words were exchanged before the crowd was directed into the next room.

We were handed three large index cards (one Green and one Red for answering Yes/No to group questions), and a “Question/Comment” card (mini-pencils provided). I was near the head of the line, so I got in early enough to find a seat. Many late arrivals did not.

I apologize for the lack of video footage, but from my vantage point, there wasn’t much to see. The crowd attending this Republican event was 98% Republican (100% white) . No “Obama as Hitler” signs or screaming protesters. About the most I saw were a few people with “No to Obama-care” signs scrawled on the side of a Manila folder with a Sharpie.

I did my homework before the event. Several local shows on PBS the night before preped me for the latest healthcare canard-du-jour, and I printed out a few “myth-busting facts”, which I carried with me on a clipboard to the event. I also visited Ted Poe’s website to brush up on his position on the issue (totally against “government run healthcare” and promised never to allow “a 25 year old bureaucrat to come between you and your doctor.”), making clear what my first questions would be.

Poe took the podium for the one-hour event, opened with a few pleasantries, then asked everyone to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance (which I’m certain many in this Conservative crowd believed only Republicans do). He explained the purpose of the Town Hall and repeated his adamant opposition to “government run healthcare”. To my surprise, he pointed out that there are “several bills in both the House and the Senate” of which “no one has voted on yet” and he would only be commenting on HR3200, the House bill, specifically. He even pointed out that “the National Media is confusing the House and Senate bills” (which is true) and in many instances “are very different” (which is also true). He didn’t attack President Obama and he didn’t use the noun “Democrat” when he should use the adjective “Democratic“. I was beginning to wonder if I was going to be pleasantly surprised. (spoiler alert: the answer is “No”.)

He followed that up with the assertion, “I have read “all 1,017 pages” of the House bill (HR3200), to which the partisan crowd cheered and applauded. Poe surprised me again by admitting that “reasonable minds can easily disagree [as to] what a particular portion says (…)“. I’m beginning to wonder if I misjudged the guy. Poe continues: “…because it was written so poorly. It was rushed through so quick.” Okay, NOW I understand… set ’em up & knock ’em down. Got it. Interesting argument: this enormous 1,017 page bill was “rushed” and “written quickly“. Congress has been developing this bill since February (if not before), and hundreds of changes have been made by both parties over the past six months. The argument that it was “rushed” doesn’t square with the facts. I’m not exactly sure how long it SHOULD take a room full of lawyers to craft a complex legal document, but I got the feeling that “any” bill would come too quickly for them.

Poe railed against “government *run* healthcare” for forty minutes despite the fact no one is proposing a government “takeover” of healthcare. When I asked others to explain this disconnect afterwards, the consensus was that “complete and total government control” was the “inevitable” result of “ANY” government involvement in healthcare. My pointing out that Medicare has plenty of competitors (“Medicare Advantage Plans”) made no difference in their steadfast (mis)belief.

“Cash for Clunkers” was openly mocked as an example of “government incompetence” (eliciting laughter of agreement from the crowd), citing stories now circulating in the Media of “dealers not getting paid” and some even “dropping out of the program entirely” frustrated by the reimbursement process.

(I’ve taken some flack on this point, but it needs to be made that any perceived poor handling of C4C… FAIR OR NOT… needs to be addressed NOW as it is being cited in Conservative Town Halls across the country as an example of “government incompetence” that WILL derail healthcare reform. One bad restaurant review trumps ten positive ones. And it is FAR easier for Republicans to convince a post-Bush, post-Katrina populace that “the government can’t do anything right” than for Democrats to convince people to “let the government tamper with their healthcare”. Ignore this fact at your/our peril.)

It was clear from this gathering that “the government… ie: Democrats… want to take over everything”. Wall Street, the automakers, and now healthcare. Of course, had the Bush Administration of not destroyed the economy, the first two bailouts… which took place before Obama ever took office… might never have been needed. But to this group, all those things were “the Democrats fault” because they happened after they took over Congress (a nonsense myth I debunked last March). They actually believe these “takeovers” to be “permanent”. “Stepping stones on the path to full blown Socialism”. I don’t know how many times I can repeat that Republicans are a bunch of paranoid frightened children that see the Boogieman (Osama, Saddam, Liberals, the gub’ment, etc) everywhere they look. And who do they turn to to rescue them? Republicans that tell them “the government can’t do anything right”, then fails to prevent the terrorist attack of 9/11 or evacuate people ahead of Hurricane Katrina. See? We were right!!!

(Update: I forgot to mention, one question Poe asked the crowd was if they believed heathcare was “a right” and that “everybody deserves access to affordable healthcare”? The response of the Conservative crowd: about 60/40 against. Yes, the majority of this crowd believes if you are poor, fall on hard times, or are wiped out financially by outrageous healthcare costs, if you can’t pay, you don’t deserve healthcare.)

Question-reading time. One woman expressed concern that there might be “federal funding for abortions in the bill”. Poe responded by saying he had “seen nothing in any of the bills that would prohibit paying for abortions”. I immediately responded “Bull$#!+” (which I regret because it was probably uncalled for, and (by some standards) we were in a church of sorts which would have appalled my mother) and cited: “The Hyde Amendment prohibits Federal funding for abortion in any bill”. The room quieted and Poe moved on.

My own question came up soon after: “You have cited the problems at Walter Reed as an example of government-run healthcare. Do seek to abolish the V.A., which is a 100% government-run “Socialized” healthcare system, and move every vet into the Private Healthcare System.” Poe said, “No”, but did think that “vets should have the option of going to any hospital they wanted.” So after railing against “government *run* healthcare” for twenty minutes, Poe believes in keeping the V.A.. Talk about having your cake and eating it too. I would of loved to have asked him “why? The care they are getting must be just awful!” Consider, that if the care our vets were receiving were anything but equal to what they’d get in the private sector, there’d be outrage. If the care was “worse“, people would be outraged over the poor treatment of our vets. If it were “better“, then they can’t argue government-run healthcare is worse than what you find in the “free-market”. And personally, even “equal” is an indefensible answer for any Republican, since their argument is that “government-run healthcare can’t match the private sector”. How does he defend maintaining an “incompetent bureaucratic government-run healthcare system” and not moving our vets into “the superior private healthcare system”? Maybe we should “privatize the V.A.? Turn it into a for-profit industry!” (I shouldn’t give them any ideas.) Apparently, “government-run healthcare” is just fine for America’s Heroes, but not for you or me.

Last question of the day: “Where’s the Republican plan?” Poe said there were (iirc) something like eighteen Republican healthcare plans out there, but referred the group to only two, the “one on his website” (here’s the link to his site. If you can find a link to ANY Republican healthcare plan, please post it because I sure as hell can’t), and the plan on (again, I checked. No bill. HERE is what you’ll find on the GOP website. It’s not a bill. It’s a wishlist of goals and desired outcomes. The section on “controlling costs” is a whopping THREE LINES LONG. Compare “the GOP Plan” to what a REAL bill looks like: the aforementioned 1,017 page HR3200, (pdf). And I guarantee you “the GOP plan” didn’t take six months to write (while we’re on the subject of “rushed” plans that are short on details.) No Virgina, there is no Republican Plan.

After the town hall was over, I was approached by several people that asked if I “was the one who brought up the Hyde Amendment”, then thanked me for setting the record straight. Some asked me why the Hyde Amendment is not mentioned in the bill. “Because it’s already the law. You don’t need to repeat it in the bill” I explained. “No, something that important needs to be included in the bill.” Yes, the people complaining that the bill is “over 1000 pages long” are upset every law regarding government healthcare isn’t duplicated in the bill. The bill is simultaneously “too long” AND “too short” (eg: “government healthcare is both awful” and “will put the competition out of business because everyone will sign up for it”.)

The husband of one of the women who agreed with me, disagreed with me on everything else. He spent the next twenty minutes trying to convince me that “the people in Norway, France and Canada (where he has friends) all HATE their healthcare system”. I said that was nonsense. “They may want to REFORM their system, but NOBODY in those countries were protesting in the streets demanding that their government abolish their healthcare system in favor of the American system”. I challenged him to name a single country that is. He continued to insist that they hate their system “because it costs too much”. I pointed out that “no one goes bankrupt in those countries over healthcare bills.” He told me he has “two sons in their twenties” that can get health insurance “for $125 a month”. I told him they weren’t going to get much of a policy for $125/month. “Huge deductibles… IF they even agree to cover you at all.” He stubbornly disagreed that $125 would more than cover their healthcare. He said his foreign friends “have to wait a long time… three days… just to make an appointment.” I noted that I was just told my optometrist had “a one month waiting list” when I called for an appointment last month. He next argued, “they can wait up to a year to get surgery!”. I responded, “If you offered me FREE surgery, and all I had to do was wait a year, do you think I’d say No? You think “one-year” is a long time? If you can’t afford surgery, your wait time is “never“.

I repeated the “Medicare for All” option I had found agreement with earlier, thinking he’d go for that, but that too was totally unacceptable. “They only pay doctors between 30%-35% of what the care actually costs (actually, the reimbursement rate is closer to between 70% and 80%). If everyone went on Medicare, doctors & hospitals would go broke.” (Apparently, doctors can’t get by on $500,000 a year.) That’s the fantasy world healthcare reform supporters are up against. No place to go after that, so I walked away.

I’m reminded of Ron Paul during the 2008 election being criticized for pointing out that “we were attacked on 9/11 because of our interference in other countries”. Republicans accused him of “blaming America” and denied that that was the reason we were attacked. And now, Republicans are still disconnected from reality, thinking healthcare reform will “turn America into the Soviet Union”, that having a “public option choice” means “a complete government takeover of healthcare”… an argument that is impossible to follow because it assumes that government involvement will both “ration care and encourage euthanasia” AND “be so popular and so cheap, it will put the competition out of business”… or that it will “bankrupt the country” because it’ll cost too much” despite requiring doctors & hospitals to accept “only 30%-35%” of the cost of any medical service.

One final thought: I often feel the need to remind people that only four years after Nixon, “Watergate”, and half the White House staff resigning in disgrace, the public voted out Democratic President Jimmy Carter and ran back to the Republican Party, which went on a massive spending spree (quadrupling the national debt), went back to lying to Congress (Iran/Contra), and deregulated everything in site, but protected them from the “Evil Commie Bastards”. Don’t think for a minute that after eight years of astounding incompetence, economic disaster, and criminal behavior under the Bush Administration, this country wouldn’t turn on Democrats in the blink of an eye and hand the whole shebang back over to Republicans just three years from now.

No one likes the parent that makes you eat your vegetables. They want the parent that lets them sneak a cookie before dinner.


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