Yes, Virginia, despite what you read in the mainstream media, there really ARE peaceful town meetings held by Democratic members of Congress to discuss health care reform: meetings where the vast majority even applaud the public option. And where most of the few wingnuts present, finding discretion the better part of valor, confine their opposition to muted mutterings rather than raucous rants that might bring the fury of the liberal majority down upon them.
Such was Rep. Donna Edwards's meeting in Germantown, Maryland, on August 25th, attended by more than 300 people, a crowd that was overwhelmingly pro-Edwards, pro-reform, and supportive of the public option. The meeting was a virtual model of tranquility. There was little in the way of opposition. One man heckled Edwards briefly, denouncing the public option. A young LaRouchite got to the microphone and said that "Mr. LaRouche" had exposed Obama's "Nazi" health plan, but Edwards simply ignored her. There was also a LaRouchite outside handing out brochures comparing Obama to Hitler.
The biggest applause of the night came after a woman said she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis three months late because her insurance company wouldn't give timely approval to an MRI. She said people say a government option will ration care, but her case is proof that private insurance companies do the same thing.
A doctor also got a big round of applause when he said insurance companies have "sucked out" pretty much everything from the system and that single payer should never have been taken off the table. Rep. Edwards replied that the public option was the best vehicle to insure the 40 million Americans who currently lack insurance. She said that we currently lack a competitive system, with single insurance companies possessing monopolies in many places.
A woman who identified herself as a registered nurse said that people crowd emergency rooms with all kinds of minor problems that don't require emergency care, and that if everyone were insured, ER's could do a much better job with people who really need emergency medicine.
When Rep. Edwards asked how many people in the crowd were on Medicare, twenty or thirty people (including myself) raised our hands. Clearly, there were many more than that present. Edwards then asked how many people were willing to give Medicare up. Only a single hand was raised.
Speaking to the town hall, one audience member wondered whether the public option was the first step on a slippery slope to government control of medicine. Edwards said she didn't "think it's the first step to anything," but rather that the public option would "provide choices for Americans by lowering costs and increasing competition."
Edwards is smart, articulate, and liberal. Given that the very approving crowd, which was 90 percent white, represents only a small part of her district (most of which is black and in neighboring Prince George's County), I'd say she can hold this seat as long as she wants.
A senate candidacy may not be too far in the future. Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), who's turning seventy-four, is up for reelection next year. Maybe that's too soon for a freshman congresswomen like Edwards to challenge a very popular senator in a Democratic primary, but who knows nowadays. After all, a freshman made it to the White House after just two years in the Senate.