August 7, 2009
Story and Photo by Ken Krayeske • 2:45 PM EST
Bristol, CT right-wing activist Jim Bancroft wanted to know why Dodd held his town hall discussion Monday, August 3 in such a dumpy neighborhood in Hartford. For the children sitting on the stoop behind him, it's the best neighborhood they have.
The problem with political theater is that we never really know when the curtain falls and when the play starts again.
The cast and crew of "What's the matter with Connecticut?" met up for a healthcare sinecure – a sinecure being a job you don’t need to show up for, coming from the middle aged feudal position of a job in the church that didn't involve the saving of souls.
Sen. Chris Dodd, Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, and two Obama cabinet members, former Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius, now Obama's Secretary of Health and Human Services, and U.S. Small Business Administrator Karen Mills converged on Hartford.
The handlers selected a humble warehouse at 39 Belmont Street in Parkville, home of a successful small business, Connecticut Commercial Maintenance, Inc.
More than 90 people packed into this tiny, hot space, where two kayaks sat on wall shelves, and many ladders of all sizes leaned against walls covered in mudded and taped sheetrock that had never been painted.
Despite the fact that Parkville is poor, and two perfect-sixes sat across the street from the venue (one blighted and boarded up, the other with broken windows and children sitting on the front stoop), the show attracted a hardly diverse crowd.
Perhaps it wasn't fair for me to engage in racial profiling, but I counted six African-Americans in the Democratic audience, (seven if we count a DHHS cop who didn't want me taking pictures of his lapel pin), and maybe a dozen people who appeared to be Latino.
Aside from the journalists, the bloggers and the cops, including DHHS' internal security service who refused to identify which law enforcement agency they worked for, the regular suspects attended.
The reserved front row featured Connecticut Democratic Party Chair Nancy DiNardo, Senate President Don Williams, Speaker of the House Chris Donovan, and Secretary of the State and wannabe Governor Susan Bysiewicz.
Also spotted in the audience were City Councilman Larry Deutsch and former State Senator and now a staffer in Congressman John Larson's office, Billy Ciotto of Wethersfield. CCAG boss and former Lamont campaign manager Tom Swann was there, too.
The AP daybook email circulating around said the dog-and-pony show about the proposed Democratic health care plan would start at 9:45. Dodd and DeLauro met in a private room upstairs with some locals prior to the show. Sebelius arrived at about 10, and the show began.
The Democrats wouldn’t be talking about single payer - the health care policy where the US government becomes the main purchaser of health care services (a monopsony where one buyer controls the market).
In 2003, then-state senator Obama proclaimed he was a proponent of single-payer, and that it was perhaps the best solution, but politics being the art of the compromise, he noted in so many words that capitalism made single payer almost impossible to achieve.
So rather than sit through disingenuous dialogue where elected leaders who know what the right thing to do is but refuse to do it for any number of reasons, I went to interview the handful of protestors standing outside. I didn't have much better luck.
One of them, Barbara Whitney of Avon, a Republican and a small business owner, wanted to get inside. Well, who invited you? I got an email, she said. From who? She couldn't remember.
Nor did she seem to want to comprehend that the event was on private property, and she had no right to be inside. She has a right to speak. So I interviewed her about healthcare.
Whitney's business has 25 to 30 employees, and she doesn't provide them with healthcare.
"These people can afford it if they want to. They would rather spend it on drinking and cigarettes and vacations that I can't afford," Whitney said. “I've tried to explain to them about it, about eating right, taking vitamins, quitting smoking."
Then she piled on about 20 million Americans who are uninsured by choice. Her opinions were informed by her own experience in Germany, living under socialized medicine for some years, and then by her son's education at a major state university.
As for the six million Americans who can't afford health care, Whitney said "They can get a part time job."
Blogger ConnecticutMan1, whose name I do not know, made another one of these protestors infamous. CTMan1 captured footage of Jim Bancroft of Bristol shouting that Dodd should pop a handful of painkillers and wash it down with Ted Kennedy's whiskey.
Both Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow used CTMan1's footage on their MSNBC shows. I think that General Electric should pay CTMan1 for his time and effort. But that is another matter altogether.
The "What's the matter with Kansas?" problem of working class people advocating for policy positions that work against their best interests has already been noted in the blogosphere.
Health care is a commodity, Bancroft said, and, sounding much like U.S. Senate candidate Rob Simmons, Bancroft proclaimed that health care is not a right.
"That is why when government runs it, you have to ration it," he said.
If it's not in the constitution, piped in Estelle Stevenson of Waterbury, another of the protestors, then it is not a right.
Fellow tea party protestor Cliff Atkin of Woodbury, who arrived at the protest in a new luxury car, suggested that uninsured people should just sign up for Medicare.
"They should get one warning – if you come in again, we won't treat you," he said, the next minute jumping to waste. "Extending someone’s life for one month for $80,000 is a stupid decision."
Aside from the circular and illogical arguments and uninformed opinions, the protestors could hardly articulate what they wanted other than to eliminate fraud and waste, and a government that follows the Constitution.
And when Dodd, departing the scene, invited the protestors to discuss the situation, Bancroft and his cohorts refused, according to Christine Stuart at CTNewsjunkie.com.
Thus is the sitcom that is modern American political dialogue. One party knows what it should do, then does the opposite, the other party is obstructionist, using leadership to confuse its own base to support policies that only benefit the wealthy.
For a moment, it made me appreciate the difficulty of creating actual political reform. And then I remembered the cops, standing by ominously, anonymously, in uniform and plainclothes, with guns and earpieces and lapel pins, in SUVs and cruisers, watching the factions talk past each other.
Are they moderating the debate, insuring that it happens peacefully? What would it be like if we didn't have armed guards protecting the political circus?
What would happen if the protestors got in and actually managed to shut down the conversation? What do you do once you have achieved the goal to prevent talk about issues? Where do we go from there? Status quo? Who does that benefit but the institutions already benefitting from status quo?
So maybe cops are necessary at political events. Theoretically, we should be a developed enough civil society to have two sides meet at an event and not have to worry about one side attempting to disrupt an event. At the same time, I myself have participated in events to heckle and disrupt, coming at it from the pacifist side of the coin, instead of the right, where these protests originate.
In doing so, I was put on lists and arrested, and I never said anything so foul as to suggest that a Senator should commit suicide or hanging a representative in effigy. So are the cops making lists at these protests, or are they protecting property rights?
Or are the police just there to prevent violence? The continued presence disturbs me when they fail to prevent the closure of town hall forums because right-wing activists get so boisterous as to shut them down.
And while this political theatre distracts us all, the real crooks down the street at the Aetna, the Hartford, Mass Mutual and United Healthcare make off like bandits.