Monday, September 14, 2009

Noise pollution

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.


Gina said...

I feel the same way. Ever since the race started for Obama's presidency. I noticed right away that certain groups of people on both sides of the political spectrum seemed really angry...even hateful. Now it's even more evident. I wish I had an answer for how to help it dissipate, because being that angry, and that hateful, and that negative all the time takes a lot of energy that can be better spent improving the quality of life.

downtown guy said...

My mom's take on it:

EDP said...

DG, your mom's excellent post inspired me! I really want to meet her one of these days. Gina, you're so right. There's righteous anger, and there's toxic anger. This is the latter.

Sghoul said...

One thing to keep in mind is that much of the really angry stuff you see is simply what the media is showing you. A calm town hall meeting is dull news.

Another part may be that anytime someone displays a dissenting opinion these days, someone calls them a crackpot or, increasingly, a racist. That tends to tick people off.

And keep in mind that some of the folks coming out against this, voted for Obama.

Others are coming of so mad because they felt shafted by a chain of events (bailout, stimulus, international affairs, whatever) and are putting their foot down on healthcare because the other stuff came and went so fast.

And I really feel that the Dems and Reps have done such a wonderful job polarizing everyone, that a part of all this is simply 'my team rocks, yours sucks'. I mean, look how pumped up football fans can get about a simple rivalry.

What it comes down to is that there is no one cause. And it's not just one side...there was plenty of hatred when Bush was in office...and Clinton too.

And the Internet has made us hyper-aware. I get at least one email a day about something political. And people's facebook statii (mine included) often pose political opinions.

But my anecdotal experience says that the average American probably cares about this issue, but not as vehemently as the news tries to make it out to be.

Licia Berry said...

Seems the boiling over point is close...feels like a volcano getting ready to blow.

I'm a believer in self reflection...If I'm angry about something, I like to examine why, rather than just go with the spewing willy-nilly.

I sure can't diagnose why angry Americans are getting so much press, why we want to read about it, or why they are speaking so hurtfully. But I suspect that when there is a large emotional reaction on the surface, there is a deeper issue thrusting it upward, kind of when a zit comes to a whitehead (sorry-know that's gross).

I wrote about the racism accusations and projection, a psychology term that describes when we hoist our unresolved filters onto others, making them the bad guy. I'd be honored and curious to hear your feedback.