#178 – Dick Bernard: America, the civilized?

Today, in the wake of the Health Care Reform legislation, came reports of rocks through windows, telephoned death threats. The most vicious seemed directed towards Cong. Bart Stupak of Michigan. And we call ourselves a civilized society?
Unfortunately, out of this encouraged incitement of the anger in the body politic may well come some deranged individual(s) somewhere who will do very serious damage, like Tim McVeigh in Oklahoma City in 1995. It is only a matter of time when domestic terror strikes. All we don’t know is where or when or specifically who will be perpetrator(s) and victim(s). Most likely it will be one of we Americans….
For the rest of us, we’re well advised to learn as much as we can about what we’re for, or against; and to dialogue with others about it. For many, this won’t be easy, but it’s essential.
I don’t pretend to be very smart on politics, but I do listen, and I have observed political behavior over the years.
To begin, it is generally presumed, that perhaps a quarter of the electorate is a fairly reliable ‘base’, whether left or right. These folks are the believers, not much inclined to change their mind, reliable. Neither is a monolith – they range from radical to fairly moderate, but their mind is basically made up. The quiet center – most of the population – is more “in play”. (Me? I’d call myself basically moderate left.)
A good example of misleading opinion: in recent days, polling showed that over half of the American people had issues with the bill which was passed and signed on Health Care Reform. It was not emphasized, generally, that this so-called majority was split into two totally diametrically opposed camps: those who thought Reform went too far, and those who thought it didn’t go far enough. By no means were these groups allies, but they were clumped together nonetheless, and used by some to create an illusion that Americans were against Health Care Reform.
Even by this flawed poll, a majority of Americans think that the Health Care Reform bill is a positive step in the right direction. That’ll be my spin, and I think it is more honest than claiming the American people don’t want Health Care Reform as enacted.
For the people who are looking for simple answers; those who make their judgements based on belief, or on the pronouncements of somebody they trust, or on a narrow interpretation of a specific single issue, there is little mileage in attempting to change their mind. About all that one can do, if the opportunity arises, is to offer to help explain another side of the issue.
Two good sources for assessing accuracy of pronouncements of the Health Care Reform bill (which is a very complicated piece of legislation) are politifact.com and factcheck.org. There are others as well. A simple google or similar search can be very helpful.
A useful primer on whether or not the bill is constitutional appeared in this article by a career, now retired, political correspondent for a major newspaper.
Not a good source of data is someone who has a vested interest in the debate: a congressman, a trade group, someone who can afford the expensive advertising. Their responses will be polished and smooth, but they are carefully crafted to advance only their point of view. There are more reliable sources than the partisans. It is certain that the bill is neither perfect, nor is it horrible.
Several years ago I did a very rough sketch of how I viewed the American body politic. Here is the illustration.

American Political Spectrum: A Personal View

Right or wrong, this general illustration more or less helps direct my own thinking of the “body politic”.
The schematic is very simple: the vertical axis represents intensity of feeling (bias) of people in a segment of the population; the horizontal axis divides 100% of the population into general groups.
In my view, the people with the most intense feelings, left and right, tend to dominate the public media conversation. Their interest is in out-shouting the other point of view.
In between are people of all sorts of varying levels of interest, engagement and bias. Many, if not most, are not much into arguing politics.
There is not much gained by trying to convince (or revile) the far left or the far right. It is the massive middle where progress can and will be made….
I think the Health Care Reform bill passed on Sunday was a great step forward for all of us in America.
Away we go.