Health Care Meeting Ruckuses Reflects America's Fears

Thursday, Aug 20, 2009  |  Updated 10:30 AM PDT
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Health Care Meeting Ruckuses Reflects America's Fears

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A man is taken away by police at a health care town hall.

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For weeks we’ve watched meetings between members of Congress and their constituents turn into ugly shouting matches.  Some of the questions have been on health care, but much of these discussions have focused on something much deeper—festering insecurities of American society.  Somehow rampant public fears must be addressed as part of the health care reform approach.

People have expressed concerns about a variety of seemingly peripheral subjects, including excessive taxation, runaway government, bulging deficits, a tepid economic stimulus, and even the loss of individual rights.  These issues go well beyond the health care debate to the very foundations of our economic well being.  They reflect the frustrations of a society fighting its way through the worst recession in 70 years, with little end in sight.  Economists may talk about the coming rebound or recovery, but for those who have lost jobs or fear losing their jobs, they wonder whether they will be able to afford any health care at all.  They consider the topic peripheral to economic survival.

The challenge for President Barack Obama and health care reformers is to tie health care reform to economic recovery.  They need to make the case that the present health care system has contributed to our economic malaise and that reform will save money while extending care to those without it.  Specifically, they need to use the old Ross Perot method of showing savings on a simple chart.  These savings, they should go on to say, will help fuel the economic engine to recovery.   

It’s always easier for naysayers to sow seeds of doubt into any reform proposal.  That’s because change often takes us to the world of the unknown, which can be more frightening than what we know even if what we know isn’t so terrific.  To overcome the naysayers, President Obama and his allies must keep the message simple, positive, and a plus for most Americans.  If they don’t, the administration may find itself on the defensive for the next three years.

Larry Kerstin, a political science professor at San Jose State University, appears regularly on NBC Bay Area as a political analyst.

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