Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Health Care Debate at 14th and Constitution

On Monday I asked for suggestions about what my homemade sign should say when I went down to the National Mall to look for teabagger anti-health care protesters. On Tuesday I dusted off my bubble letter and coloring skillz. And on Wednesday I carried my sign along the Mall. The sign said:
"Firefighting isn't for profit. Why is health care?"
(Congratulations, Becky, your sign idea was the winner!) And for a little extra zing, I wrote this on the back of the sign:
"If you get very sick, your insurance co. hopes you die."
Because sad and true is still true. Once on the Mall, I walked and walked. But what do you know? No teabaggers in sight--just kickball games and joggers. So I decided to set up shop at the intersection of 14th Street NW and Constitution Avenue. The intersection was filled with pedestrians and DC commuters heading south to the 14th Street Bridge to Northern Virginia.

How did it go? I was surprised. There were zero negative reactions to the sign. Not a single person yelled vulgarities, offered a one-finger salute, or even wanted to argue. No opposition expressed to these--what might be called radically leftist--messages. That is definitely a first in my sign-holding experience. Maybe it's because everyone loves firefighters and no one loves insurance companies, so conservatives are disarmed by these statements. I wondered if the lack of pro-insurance-company reaction was due to the time of day and the location. Were people too tired and stressed trying to get home to even want to think about health care?

Well, it didn't stop the other side--if you can even call people who think our health system should prioritize health over private profit as a "side." Dozens of drivers honked and gave thumbs up. (Again, all thumbs, no middle fingers.) A number of people walking by encouraged, "Keep it up," and "You're right on," and so on. The supporters of these progressive populist slogans were as diverse as the mass of humanity flowing through this busy intersection. But honestly, I was kind of surprised by the number of older men in really nice cars who supported the messages on the sign.

A third group--and probably the biggest group--had a different reaction. Lots of people just stared at the sign, maybe looked away for a little bit, and then stared some more. I know they were reading it, because they were mouthing the words. Your guess is as good as mine as to what, if anything, was going on in their heads. What I hope is that these people had not really thought of the issue in this way before. (Like, "Oh yeah, insurance companies don't make money by paying for me to get medical service. They make money by collecting my premiums and then denying me coverage when I really need it.")

What I know is that not a single person driving, walking, or biking wanted to defend for-profit health insurance companies. Not one. Let's be clear. The abolition of health insurance companies is not anywhere within a thousand miles of the debate going on in Congress. Republican and Democratic lawmakers are arguing essentially over whether insurance companies should be allowed to run roughshod over us all or whether they should be reined in a little bit. I'm not diminishing here how much we need the public option and how important that fight is. I'm not taking my eye off the ball. I'm just realizing once again that what politicians debate is almost always more conservative than what the progressive majority of Americans really want.


Becky said...

Go Dave!

That is really interesting about the lack of a negative response.

And yeah, the goings-on in the Senate Finance Co. have seemed detached from reality to me. Like a weird shadow play. Because don't the majority of Americans want the public option? But they won't send one to the floor because it won't pass the Senate? Well who are these guys again?

They're the guys we thought were representing us, but they're actually there to take $$ from corporate lobbies.

Amy said...

Very interesting! Well done. I think you're right--people were taking in the meaning and comparison your sign was making. It was a new thought for me when I read it, too.

I'd be interested to see what would happen if you took your sign on a little road trip, through some smaller towns, or just even the suburbs--if you'd get a different reaction.

Elizabeth said...

I was pretty shocked that when I temped at the University of Chicago law school these last few weeks that everyone I worked with was very pro reform and public option. Need I remind you that, while Obama was a lecturer here, Scalia was a professor? Granted, the professors may have different ideas, but it still surprised me. I mean U C isn't known for being a liberal bastion in academia...

delaine said...

I still don't see how anything short of a Public Option is going to significantly help most Americans. NPR has been doing a series of Americans with and without medical coverage. Today's segment featured a couple, both of whom are employed, who bought coverage on the market and ended up -when they finally could get a policy- with husband not covered for many things and both parents having a $5200 deductible !! That is obscene! Their son had an ordinary broken arm,and they had to pay over $8000. Congressmen have great health coverage. Are they really worried about the rest of us ? OR are their corporate bosses still calling the shots ?