While we were in Atlanta last weekend, we met a friend of our in-laws who is from Ghana. She met President Obama when he was in Ghana over the summer, and she's a fan. The conversation eventually turned to American politics and the hoopla over health care reform, and she asked me a question I couldn't really answer: "Why are people so angry? I don't understand."
I muttered something about a segment of people being wary of anything that smacks of "socialism," even if they couldn't define it at gunpoint. I also explained that the complexity of our current health care delivery system makes it difficult to have an informed, coherent conversation about reform, and that people are frightened in hard economic times. But the more I talked, the more I realized that none of those arguments explained the vitriol or the naked rage we'd been seeing on the news.
I feel compelled to say that it is absolutely OK to disagree with Obama's health care proposal or any of his proposals. Rock on. Dissent plays a huge role in our nation's history, and it's nice to live in a country where it won't get you thrown in jail, or worse. But the town hall meeting shenanigans and the congressional heckling and the protect-our-kids-from-Obama sentiment and the commentator fear-mongering have nothing to do with policy or ideas.
Back in my hometown, the city school system decided not to let students watch the president's speech because doing so would take 18 minutes out of the school day. Really? When I was in high school, it was routine for pep rallies to last two class periods during football season. But a speech about staying in school and taking responsibility for your education is too distracting. Right.
If my reaction to all this appears delayed, it's because I'm genuinely troubled by what the "health care" debate has revealed. Or maybe it hasn't revealed anything so much as reminded us of that thing's presence, however diminished it might be.