President Obama counter-punched against ultra-right disrupters, Aug. 11, appealing to a crowd of 1,800 who packed the Portsmouth, N.H. High School Gymnasium to support health care reform that provides quality, affordable coverage for all.
Speaking to a friendly, multi-racial crowd, he hit back at the rightwing “Tea Party” goon squads that are resorting to more and more vicious tactics at lawmakers’ Town Hall meetings during their August recess.
“For all the scare tactics out there, what is truly scary is if we do nothing,” Obama told the crowd. “Where we disagree, let’s disagree over things that are real, not these wild misrepresentations that don’t bear any resemblance to anything that’s actually being proposed.” The crowd greeted this with a prolonged ovation.
Obama said health care reform is in the interests of both the 46 million who lack insurance and those covered by employer-provided plans, Medicare, Veterans Administration or any other existing plans. If reform is enacted, “Your health insurance will be there for you when it counts, not just when you’re paying premiums,” he said, an allusion to the millions losing their coverage when they are laid off. After all the “chattering and the noise,” he predicted, reform will be enacted that provides more and cheaper options.
Patients who have private insurance can keep that coverage or choose another private provider or the “public option,” the President said. He told the crowd he does not support a government-financed single-payer, system such as “Medicare for All” or like Canada’s health care system, “because it would be too disruptive.”
He debunked the lie that health care reformers would set up “death panels” to euthanize senior citizens. The provision that the right wing has seized on would only authorize Medicare to reimburse doctors for counseling of patients about living wills, hospice care, and end-of-life care if patients request it. It would not “pull the plug on grandma because we decided it’s too expensive to let her live anymore,” Obama said.
Obama’s commanding presence and the crowd’s warm response countered vicious attacks on him including a menacing death mask image of Obama with a hammer and sickle tattooed on his forehead that is circulating. Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA.) reluctantly released the image which he said was emailed by some Klan-like outfit. Baird earlier announced he is canceling town hall meetings on health care in favor of telephone conferences to avoid the “Brown Shirt tactics” of the anti-reform mob orchestrated and bankrolled by the pharma-insurance lobby.
At one of these meetings in Pennsylvania, a rabid right winger threatened Senator Arlen Specter with “eternal damnation” if he votes for health care reform.
Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.) stood coolly answering questions from hecklers who had arrived four hours early, bused in from around the state, and packed a town hall meeting at Towson University. Failed Republican candidate, Ellen Sauerbrey (a.k.a. “Sourpuss”), arrived two hours early and sat scowling in a front row with a big sign that read “Euthanasia” hanging around her neck. A man in the crowd shouted at Cardin, asking him if he would put himself in the public option. “I’m in a public plan,” Cardin replied. “It’s called Medicare.”
But the North Shore Labor Council (NSLC) in Massachusetts showed how to answer the ultra-right. In an account posted on the AFL-CIO Blog, NSLC organizer, Rosa Blumenfeld, reported, that when she and a dozen other union members showed up for Rep. Niki Tsongas’ town hall meeting in Chelmsford, they found angry people wearing T-shirts with tea kettles stenciled on them and signs that read “Stop socialized Medicine” and “Obamacare: Its to Die For.”
“Our side had about a dozen people,” she writes. “There were many Obama supporters among the crowd of 200 inside the room and the 200 more waiting to get in.
“What worked were simple signs with large print slogans like ‘Real Health Insurance Reform Now,’ and ‘Stop Insurance Company Greed.’ During Tsongas’s opening remarks, we applauded forcefully and many in the room cheered. We even had folks countering the extremists amongst the crowd waiting outside.”
During the meeting, a union member took the floor and told of the death of her grandmother from breast cancer “because her insurance company refused to pay for her treatment. The system isn’t working. People are dying. We need this health insurance reform.’”
Blumenfeld concluded, “Two things became very clear during the course of this town hall event. First, if we hadn’t been there, they would have eaten this congresswoman alive …. Second, we have to keep our message on the insurance companies whose insatiable…greed got us into this mess in the first place.”