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Monday, August 17, 2009

Health Care, Free Speech, and the American Way

Have you ever seen someone deftly waving their arms in the air in a futile effort to dissuade a tenacious insect which seems hell bent on getting in the unfortunate person's face? It is analogous to the way in which the Obama administration and Congressional Democrats have been dealing with the town hall 'mobs'. Despite the efforts at all levels of government, including the state run media, to characterize the angry citizens showing up at town hall meetings as a manufactured, racially motivated, fringe effort to sabotage health care reform, the Democrats have lost control of the debate.

A new Rasmussen poll indicates that 54% of Americans now say that passing no health care reform bill would be better than passing the plan now working its way through Congress, and that 51% fear the government more than they fear the insurance companies when it comes to making their health care decisions.

This situation is completely unacceptable to the left wing 'collective', being accustomed as they are, to controlling the debate through Utopian platitudes alone. The left believes that there is a critical subtext connected with the town hall dissent which must be addressed, i.e., unmoderated free speech.

In a recent NY Times piece, James Fishkin explains the problem this way;

"The Congressional town-hall-style meeting, which developed as a cost-effective way for time-pressed members to hear from constituents, also rests on an illusion: that a district of 650,000 potential voters can be represented by the unscientifically self-selected who decide to show up. Instead, these amorphous, unpredictable meetings have become open invitations for interest groups and grass roots campaigns to capture the public dialogue."

I suppose that Mr. Fishkin must not be a fan of free elections. After all, what is a free election but the majority being represented by a minority of 'unscientifically self-selected who decide to show up' at the polls to vote.

Having demonstrated that he has his finger firmly placed on the very pulse of the problem, Mr. Fishkin offers what he believes to be a viable solution;

"But there is a way of organizing town halls that would offer lawmakers representative and informed feedback about their constituents’ major concerns: a deliberative poll. Whereas ordinary polls represent the public’s surface impression of sound bites and headlines, deliberative polls bring together a scientifically selected microcosm of a lawmaker’s constituents under conditions conducive to thinking about issues. In effect, an entire Congressional district really can be put in one room."

"These deliberative polls may, on the surface, look a lot like the current town halls — a lawmaker and constituents sharing their positions and asking each other questions. But a lot of hard work goes on behind the scenes. First, a survey identifies the range of attitudes and demographics in the district, before inviting a randomly selected, representative sample of constituents to attend. A random sample cannot be captured by people with intense interests volunteering themselves. Second, to facilitate discussion, participants are sent balanced briefing materials about the issues to be discussed ahead of time."

"When they first arrive at the deliberative poll, attendees answer a confidential questionnaire assessing their positions, before being divided up for small-group discussions. This is key: in the current town hall format, shrill voices can easily silence the rest. But during a deliberative poll, trained moderators make sure that every voice is heard and that the group carefully and thoughtfully narrows in on its most pertinent and pressing policy questions. When all the participants finally assemble with the lawmaker, the result is a serious and productive conversation well beyond what we’ve seen in town halls lately."

Leave it to a Stanford professor of communications to come up with a brilliant and incredibly expensive way of crushing free speech. In times past, tyrants suspended free speech in a much more cost effective manner; under pain of death. By the time that the American left contrives all of the devious, stealthy, and expensive ways necessary to silence all dissent, the resulting system will collapse under its own weight.

America was born in an argument. The debate over independence was so volatile that in some instances it estranged family members permanently. Independence would never have been declared if the services of 'trained moderators' had been employed to promote mutual understanding in the debate. What has been taking place in town hall meetings across the country is not un-American as Nancy Pelosi would have everyone believe. Nothing could be more American.

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