Health reform with one angry mob -

Health reform with one angry mob

Americans love dissent as much as they love freedom, and half as much as they love gravy


Health reform with one angry mobAmericans have a way of achieving the impossible. They unlocked the power of the atom. They put a man on the moon. They convinced the world that Sarah Jessica Parker is attractive. And now they’ve topped themselves: they’ve found a way to take the staid, tedious political town hall meeting and make it interesting. The secret ingredient? Angry, angry people.

Forty years after hippies, peace and Woodstock, the United States is experiencing its Summer of Shove—a debate over health care reform characterized by vitriol, physical confrontation and thoughtful exchanges along the lines of “Up yours” and “No, up yours.” And then everyone calls everyone else a Nazi and goes home.

(You can see how the Hitler comparison holds together. The Nazis were an evil regime bent on territorial expansion, global domination and the annihilation of the Jews. Supporters of health care reform would like poor babies to be able to see a doctor. Tomato, to-mah-to.)

Nothing makes an American feel more like an American than telling other Americans that America is going to hell if the Americans in power have their way with America. It is a nation of people in love with dissent. They love it as much as they love freedom, and almost half as much as they love gravy.

At town hall meetings across America, members of Congress (especially those who support Barack Obama’s proposed reforms) are being assailed, criticized, shouted at and shouted down. Some elected officials have even been hanged in effigy, an honour usually reserved for heads of state and—at Kate’s house—Jon. One woman, attired in a “Proud Member of the Angry Mob” T-shirt, laid into Senator Ben Cardin with a vigour that by comparison made the final 10 minutes of The Exorcist seem like a romantic comedy. I’m telling you: I haven’t seen anyone this angry since I looked in the mirror after they stopped selling Apple Jacks in Canada.

If Grant Wood were to paint his American Gothic today, the farmer’s iconic pitchfork would be jabbed into a congressman’s backside. Senators and representatives have spent the summer being called liars and idiots, fascists and communists, sellouts and traitors. Some have responded by suspending town halls and instead meeting with constituents over the telephone. Others have nobly endured the abuse, including the high-profile senator Arlen Specter, who spent much of his town hall looking as though he wished he were somewhere less ferocious, such as in the teeth of a wood chipper.

Watching TV coverage of these town halls can be tremendous fun if you enjoy seeing people’s faces turn a variety of colours, such as “red” and “redder.” One man in Florida worked himself into the most fetching shade of crimson as he railed against “socialized medicine.” He seemed pretty set in his ways, though perhaps his perspective on universal care changed when he was rushed to the hospital with Exploding Head syndrome.

The quality of the fury on display has only been enhanced by the intervention of Sarah Palin, who famously vowed to fight against Obama’s “death panel” and stop it from killing off “my baby with Down syndrome.” (In retrospect, the clues were all there in Obama’s campaign slogan: Putting Those With Developmental Disabilities to Death You Can Believe In. People, we have only ourselves to blame.)

The whole “death panel” angle has really caught on, sweeping America like Cabbage Patch Kids in the ’80s or chlamydia in the ’90s. People at town halls have been chanting: “No death panels!” A company is selling T-shirts that declare, “Be nice to me—I’m on the Death Panel.” But frankly, it’s hard to grasp what American conservatives are so worried about. If government truly is as clueless and inefficient as they believe it is, the death panel will never reach a ruling and we’ll all live forever. Yay, bureaucracy!

Even some conservative commentators think Palin has gone too far. In the New York Times, Ross Douhat wrote, “Obviously, the Democratic plans wouldn’t euthanize your grandmother.” But why not? Culling the elderly would help strengthen the economy (by reducing health care costs) and protect the environment (by reducing wasteful clumps of stuck-together hard candies). More important, it would make for must-see reality TV—Survivor: Grandma’s House.

All of which leads me to wonder: is it too early to submit my application for Death Czar? There’s been a czar for everything else in the Obama White House—a car czar, a pay czar, a cheese czar (I’m assuming—after all, nothing needs a wholesale rethink more than Gorgonzola). America requires a person of purpose and ethics to wield supreme authority over who lives and who dies. I’m confident that members of Congress will rally behind my comprehensive platform, which consists of the following priorities in alphabetical order:

John Mayer must die.


Health reform with one angry mob

  1. Funny but true……..thanks

  2. The government pulling the plug on grandma because it's too costly to keep her alive is nonsense. As a hospital based doc I've counseled >1000 patients/families about end of life care. They asked questions, I answered, they'd decide: antibiotics yes, kidney dialysis no, heart massage and ventilator no, tube feeding for a week or two, yes. Full court press on that bedsore on her low back – it stinks and makes her uncomfortable. No amputation of her bluish toes now because they aren't painful. I did this for every patient I saw. It was my job. It is inconceivable that the insurance company or the government would get involved in that. That has never happened on my watch. No doctor with any character would allow it.

  3. It's not easy to be a farmer in southeast Manitoba the year we've struggled with cool wet conditions which have resulted in many neighbours having to chop their hay and green feed into mulch after having invested the usual hope and time and money in the uncrop (much like urbanites feeding their paycheques directly into a shredder).

    It's not funny being a middle aged woman, at that point in female life when ‘hot' has a whole new meaning, and when my husband has concluded that global warming can be at least partly attributed to the many baby boomer women reaching a certain age.

    So thanks for your column in the Aug. 31 Maclean's, “Health reform with one angry mob”. It brought on the giggles at a couple of points: haven't seen anyone this angry since the mirror after no Apple Jacks? Reducing wasteful clumps of stuck-together hard candies? Where do you get this stuff? Do you have a limitless supply of mental corrugated boxes stuffed with hilariously piquant flotsam and jetsam which you can just rummage around in and pull out whatever you need, stacked to the ceiling?

    I'm always glad your column is conveniently near the back of the magazine, as it is so easy to find. Although I hardly ever read the whole issue, your column is one I never miss, for the joy of your super evocative language use, and your perfect balance of cynicism and humour, appreciated by anyone from the seventies.


  4. John Mayer must die, indeed.