Bob Collier of Montezuma, Georgia

Maybe what some of us need to do is go to these town hall meetings, not to ask any questions, but with the express intention of following some of these people who are protesting against health care reform back to their homes.

I'd like to sit in their easy chairs, or slouch back their couches, the way they do in the evenings, and play with their remote controls. Perch on their decks or back porches, like they do after a hard day at work, and contemplate how little money is actually left in their 401(k)'s. Ride in their cars and click the preset station buttons on their radios to see which stations they're tuned into.

Maybe even go with them to work for a day or two, all in the hopes of being able to find out just what the exact angle of incidence is that determines their perspective, the particular type of logic that dictates how they process facts, the precise combination of life experiences that directs them to the conclusions they believe to be the right way, and often the only way, to see the world.

Maybe, if I were polite enough about it, I could convince someone like Bob Collier, who was profiled in yesterday's New York Times article "Calm, but Moved to Be Heard In the Debate Over Health Care" that graced the front page, to let me into his life for a day or two to see the world with his eyes.

Because the thing I can't figure out is how this 62 year old salesman from Montezuma Georgia, a man who seems from the bio included in the article to be the kind of person who has the capacity to separate fact from fiction, can reel off a personal indictment of the Obama Administration that completely ignores reality.

"Here comes the new guy in town," Collier says, "and he wants to centralize everything. He wants to take over the car companies. He wants to take over the banks. Now he wants to take over health care. It's a power grab, and if he gets this, there's no turning around."

The car company CEO's came to Congress twice to beg for money, because they had none left.

The banks felt they were in such dire straits that they skipped Congress and sent their 911 calls for help straight to the Treasury.

These are not events that took place behind closed doors, but in front of TV cameras that beamed them directly into our homes every night last fall.

The catchphrases "personal responsibility" and "accountability", phrases that I can imagine often pepper Mr. Collier's conversations, must have been thrown out the window when those people who managed the banks and the auto companies so poorly that ONLY the government could keep them from collapsing got boatloads of Mr. Collier's tax dollars to prop them up.

Something tells me though, that if I were to sit in Mr. Collier's living room with him and get the bank CEO's and the car company CEO's on the phone to explain how hard they had to beg the government to RELUCTANTLY come to their aid, he probably wouldn't believe the words that came out of their mouths.

It is as if Mr. Collier and his brethren, after seeing these events through the funhouse mirrors of talk radio and shock talk TV, have decided to accept the distorted images from these heavily biased media outlets as if they are accurate representations instead of the optical illusions they really are.

To Mr. Collier's credit, and to the credit of many Americans like him, he understands that something is wrong with with our health care system.

But for the Mr. Colliers of the world to insist that we apply simple arithmetic to a multivariate problem, one that demands a calculus-level solution, gives the president, the government, and ultimately the America citizenry absolutely no chance for success.

If we take a look at the sentiment that seems to be the recurring theme among these folks like Mr. Collier who seem to hunger for a golden yesteryear - those rose colored memories of a time long past that every older generation seems to invoke when progress demands immediate and substantive change in the way we do things - the sentiment that any changes should benefit some of the people, not all of the people, this is the posture that is at the heart of the moral dilemma that people like Mr. Collier face.

“We’ve got to do something about those people who can’t get insurance,” Mr. Collier said. “There has to be a safety net there. But I don’t want that safety net to catch too many people.

If I could sit in Mr. Collier's easy chair long enough, the easy chair he has undoubtedly paid for with income from his many years of work for his employer, and ruminate on this the way he does, I might come to the conclusion that the government's health care proposals now on the table neglect to address the concept of individual fairness.

This may be one of those few times in our history, however, that the concept of the public good trumps the concept of individual fairness.

But we cannot simply dismiss the Mr. Colliers of the world, as if their opinions don't matter, even if we think his moral compass is off kilter. We have to do a better job explaining to him why doing this thing which tears at one of the tenets he has tried to live by all his life makes sense even when it goes against his personal credo.

The Obama Administration has to get its historians out of moth balls, not the ones who can reel off statistics and dates but the ones who know how to tell a compelling story, and get them in a man-to-man situation with every TV news camera crew they can find.

This administration needs to let these historians tell the Rural Electrification story with some pathos, while pointing at the Montezumas and the thousands of other small towns across the country, to show how much influence the federal government had in getting electricity to homes like his when the power companies didn't think it was fair to have to provide electric current for the same price to ALL its customers.

Barack Obama himself needs to get one of those Magic Wall gizmos that the cable news networks used during the elections last year for his next press conference on healthcare. Then he needs to use it to show just what the United States of America would look like if we had only built interstate highways in the states who could pay for them. There would be very few superhighways west of the Mississippi until you got to the coast. A large part of south would still be making do with two lane highways.

Obama then needs to tap the Magic Wall twice after that visual opening with all those dangling roadways that would start and stop at state lines like a halfway finished jigsaw puzzle and pull up a few numbers - the cost of the interstate highway system, which was staggering at the time, followed by the amount of money the federal government spends every year out of our national collective treasury to help individual states maintain them.

I hope, Mr. Collier, that you and your wife get to putter around your house long enough to see why we had to have healthcare reform now - why, as imperfect as this beginning may be, it is ultimately to the greater good of our American society that we bravely endure the sacrifices necessary to "heal thy sick" in the communities all aross our nation the same way we bravely endure the sacrifices on battlefields all around the world to preserve our freedom.

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Anonymous said...

wow, good stuff...i've been reading your blog for about a month, now...this one reallys hits this healthcare issue on the head. by the way, do you listen to NPR?

ch555x said...

Makes sense as usual!

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