If you have spent an hour in front of a television the last month you know how encompassing and ruthless the health-care reform debate has become.
Who could have imagined that an effort to enlarge the health insurance network so that millions who are left out can be sure of medical attention for their families would cause so much tumult, deception, angst and hatred, often among people with little at stake and nothing to lose by the reforms?
A blizzard of television and newspaper ads have scorched Sen. Blanche Lincoln in what seems to be a bit of overkill to make sure that she stands with the Republicans to prevent a majority vote on health reform in the Senate. Since the House of Representatives approved its health bill two weeks ago, the fury has been redirected at Rep. Vic Snyder, one of the two Arkansas congressmen to vote for it. People are told that Snyder voted to take away their health care and raise their taxes. A commercial running on many channels has several old-timers vowing not to forget what Snyder did to old folks.
The bile and rank partisanship demonstrated in town-hall forums and letters have taken a menacing personal turn, too, producing a breakdown in the common courtesy that binds people of disparate beliefs even in the most heated discourses on public issues.
Consider a little contretemps two nights after the House vote at a Little Rock restaurant, which by this week, thanks to the Internet, had become a cause celebre. Nine women had been partying at Graffiti's on Cantrell Road for about an hour when Snyder and his wife, Rev. Betsy Singleton, sat down for dinner across the room. In groups they marched to his table to tell the couple how much they resented his vote and to warn that they would try to see to his defeat next year.
Such discourtesies are rare and would be unremarkable except one of the women, the wife of a prominent Little Rock doctor, penned a gloating email to her friends that night and it quickly circulated around the Republican network and this week had been read by thousands. She and her husband have bankrolled Snyder's Republican opponents before and will cater a fund-raiser for Tim Griffin, the national Republican candidate for Snyder's seat, at their home next week, where she will doubtless be toasted for her bravado.
Here is her email account: “Morie went up to him and shook his hand and said how disappointed she was in his vote, Vic just smiled and said ‘thank you for your opinion'. I shook his hand and told him my name and that I was married to Glenn Davis, a physician and that we were going to do all we could to see that he was not re-elected. His wife Betsy sat there with her mouth open.”
Fifteen minutes later, she wrote, three others from her group went to the Snyders' table and told them what they thought of his vote. The episode apparently visibly upset Mrs. Snyder. Passing by the women's table afterward, she said she was disappointed that they had interrupted their dinner and that they should register their protests with the congressman's office.
“I looked her in the eye,” the doctor's wife reported, “and said ‘Vic works for me and I can say whatever, whenever I want and he should be ashamed to vote yes for this bill.' I said we would like to have the same health care plan they and their four kids have, one boy and a set of triplets (under a year old), at their age, who is paying for that? Betsy ran off and Vic paid the bill. Everyone at the table said to him, hope you enjoyed the dinner we just paid for.
“It was so great!” she wrote. “I cannot tell you how many people came to our table and thanked us for what we did.” She exhorted her Internet friends to spread the word: “Keep after these people.”
It would be interesting to learn what is so bad about the health bill that it would cause a rich doctor's wife to boast of humiliating a couple who were out for an intimate dinner and hundreds of others to think that the act deserved to be honored.
The seniors in the commercials, if they were real constituents, at least said what their grievances against Snyder were. Besides endangering their care, they said, he voted to run up the federal deficit and raise their taxes.
The bill would jeopardize no one's medical care or change their relationship to doctors and other caregivers. They couldn't be complaining about the bill closing the big hole in their Medicare drug coverage.
Budget deficit? The tough Congressional Budget Office, usually cheered by the Republicans, calculated that the bill would reduce deficits by $129 billion by 2019.
The higher taxes in the bill might actually upset the doctor's wife — a 5.4 percent surtax would kick in when a household's net taxable income exceeded $1 million — but these oldsters didn't look like they were among the couple of hundred people in Snyder's district who could grieve about the tax.