A Good Time Was Had By All At The Blue Dog Health Care Forum In Alhambra Yesterday
I can walk to Adam Schiff's district from my house in about 10 minutes. But his health care forum today was way on the other side of the district in Alhambra, a 20 minute drive to a considerably hotter part of Los Angeles County. I got there just before 4pm and got home at 9 when the desert air had turned colder. I wouldn't have minded having a jacket by the time it was wrapping up. Schiff was a state senator when he first ran in 2000, defeating far right nutcase Jim Rogan, one of the worst of the impeachment loons. I worked at Warner Bros at the time-- it was pre-Blue America and we raised money the old fashioned way back then: going to rich people. Collecting money to defeat Rogan, who had painted a target on his back with his hysterical comments about Clinton, was an easy sell. I helped persuade scores of entertainment industry people to max out to Schiff and helped him raised over $100,000 in what was-- and still is-- the most expensive House race ever... anywhere. Rogan only managed a pathetic 44% and the district has trended blue-blue-blue ever since. Obama took it with 68%-- substantially more than either Kerry's or Gore's winning margins.
Schiff is only the second Democrat to represent the district since it was created in 1913 but it is a super-safe Democratic seat. When he went off to Washington he joined the Blue Dog caucus and I was confused and disappointed. When he voted for Bush's Iraq War confusion and disappointment turned to anger. We had words; they were our last. So it was with some reluctance that I decided to go to his town hall, as I mentioned last Saturday. But Blue Dog or not, Schiff seems-- at least publicly-- to be pretty pro-health care reform. His straight forward statement on where he stands is in the link just above.
The meeting was due to start at 7pm in the Civic Center Library. The library holds between 2-300 people, tops. By the time I got there at 4pm, there were already 500 people, which quickly grew to a couple thousand. They moved the meeting to a civic plaza that easily accommodates a few thousand people.
Most of my experience of the event had nothing to do with Schiff. He arrived a little after 7 and the 3 hours before he got there were the most interesting. The vibe was pretty good, although-- at least at first-- there were a lot more anti-government types there than just normal Joes and Janes interested in having a health care discussion. The L.A. County GOP, notorious Hate Talk radio host Kevin James (KRLA), and the district's whacko-- but basically just posturing and harmless-- Pasadena Patriots (sort of like a frat for malcontents) were determined to make a bunch of noise and pose for the TV cameras. But no one looked really dangerous-- not counting a clutch of LaRouche loons with lots of Obama-as-Hitler posters who I always see in front of the post office begging for money-- and the first hour or so was spent with lots of fraternization between the wingers and the regular Americans. I talked to tons of them but one of the 3 bosses would send runners over and warn them to stop talking to me after a few minutes. (The 3 bosses are in the pic to the left.) There were an awful lot of very mixed up wingers though and I rarely get to talk to people like that in person.
One told me this whole sob story about how she's suing her insurance company for a whole range of health screw ups. If she was in her right mind-- she was obviously on drugs-- she would have been the most ardent of the Obama supporters. Instead she had managed to transfer her hatred of the insurance companies onto "Obamacare." I think this was a common occurrence, even to the tune of 20-30% of the anti-health care people! I soon saw, though, that almost all the anti-health care people had one thing in common. Maybe two. The maybe is that they all hated paying taxes and hate big government. You heard all the Limbaugh talking points that have been drilled into their heads about how taxes are theft. The not maybe is how every single conversation-- especially if you push them out of their comfort zone, an easy thing to do-- ends with them screaming how they're not going to pay for health care for illegal aliens. I swear, that's what it's all about: they hate illegal aliens. And if you refer to them as "undocumented immigrants," it's like waving a red flag under their noses. There was also a lot of mumbo jumbo about socialism. Tons of their non-slick but obviously mass produced signs mentioned socialism, although there were also some they had churned out-- now one of their folkway myths-- about the brutality of the SEIU.
There were lots of people with fake walkers, with fake neck braces and some sitting in wheel chairs they had no need of. When the media wasn't around, one elderly winger with an anti-SEIU sign got up to demonstrate and let me sit in her motorized wheel chair for 15 minutes... a real relief after being on my feet for hours (with a toe I had smashed into the side of a swimming pool the other day).
As we got closer to the event, the righties-- who were much better organized in the beginning-- got all their forces together to start chanting "Freedom Yes, ObamaCare No." By then there were already more pro-reform folks there and some were feisty enough to get in the rightists' faces and start chanting "Yes We Can." But the leftists took a long time to figure out something the rightists seemed to have no trouble grasping: everyone has to chant the same thing at the same time. The leftists had 4 or 5 different chants and no one calling the shots. The rightists had the whole thing well coordinated with leaders with bullhorns, some kids with a drum, etc. After about an hour of chanting in each other's faces the pro-reform people settled on "Health Care Now" and sheer numbers more or less drowned out the rightists.
Different town hall meeting-- same slogan and threat
Other common myths you heard everywhere included dozens of wingers who claim to have lived in Canada where "you have to stand in line for six months with cancer" and one loon in a yarmulke-- there were several orthodox Jews in the crowd, all on the rightists' side, much to the chagrin of the secular Jews in the crowd who are all pro-health care-- claimed he used to live in Germany and that the socialized medicine "destroyed the whole economy and no one does anything but smoke pot and have sex now." There was no chance anyone's mind was going to be changed today. Everyone came with their own version of reality and it would have been as easy to get someone to switch religion as to change sides on this issue.
In fact when Schiff finally arrived (huge applause from the pro-reformers, boos from the rightists), he asked how many people were in favor of the president's health care proposals-- I wondered what he was talking about exactly, as did several other single payer advocates in the crowd-- and how many were against the plan. It was about 60/40 pro, although most of the wingers were way up front (as was I) and they made a bigger noise. Then Schiff asked who was undecided and had just come to hear the arguments and make up their mind. I think two people raised their hands. Lucky it was so few because it was obvious the rightists had no intention of letting anyone hear any facts or figures. They never stopped booing and yelling "read the bill," even when Schiff tried pandering to them by telling them no illegals would get any subsidies. They booed everyone and everything, regardless of what was said. They were there to have fun booing and to express their hatred for immigrants, minorities and blame their failed, shitty lives on Adam Schiff and Barack Obama. I actually felt sorry for Schiff and felt an urge to applaud so "our side" would score a victory on the applause-o-meter but then I would catch myself and remember: Blue Dog, Iraq War, FISA bill, weak, corporate health care legislation...
Even when Schiff made a plea for a respectful dialog, they just booed, screamed "liar," and yelled their slogans, like "tort reform," and "read the bill," though Schiff assured them he had. I forgot to mention, all the nuts had legal-looking documents that had been handed out that they claimed was the bill and it was pure GOP propaganda-- like ACORN panels deciding who would live or die and something about how the government could withdraw all your money from your bank account electronically. These people's world centers on Fox News and Limbaugh; it goes no further.
When the moderator mentioned that the central problem was figuring out how to get the whole country covered, he missed the point completely. These people, at their core, are selfish assholes and they don't want the whole country covered. They booed and booed and it was all about "I've Got Mine"-- even if they didn't-- "So Screw Everyone Else." McCain won 30% of the vote in this district; that's who showed up to make noise and act like assholes. They seemed particularly angry when someone-- Schiff had 5 prominent doctors on stage with him-- said something that implied they were an expert in something. Oh, did that piss them off! They booed loudest for anyone pulling any expertise crap. When a consumer advocate specializing in medical care spoke they went crazy and it seemed they were all pro-pre-existing condition and pro-rescinding policies for sick people. It was another world. Any time Schiff attempted to answer a question they would all chant "two-thousand ten," as though they expect it's only some SEIU activists (and thugs, of course) who want health care reform and that the district would wake up and elect a Republican or a Libertarian or something.
I also met a creepy and pompous little Republican with really bad breath named Ari David who's running against Henry Waxman. I asked him how he expected to win in a district that only gave McCain 28%, where the Republicans didn't even bother running anyone last year and where the last Republican to run, David Nelson Jones, barely broke a quarter of the vote. He had an answer too: "Pigface Waxman is an ugly old fucker and when people see his picture they'll know it's time for him to go. I'm way cooler." There you go. I almost mentioned to him that the vicious teabagger attacks on Obama were driving his polling numbers up significantly, but... well why rain on his delusional parade?
I'm glad I went and it sounded like Sam Farr, an actual progressive, had a very similar health care forum up in Monterey a couple nights ago-- also one driven by paranoid, xenophobic, anti-government loons. I'm guessing all the California town halls are going to be like that.
UPDATE: No, I Wasn't Exaggerating About Ari David
That was an exact quote. Plenty of people sent me e-mails saying a Republican candidate wouldn't make a remark like that about how their opponent looks and that real Republicans don't stoop to that level. They don't? What level do they stoop to? I checked Ari's MySpace page and found this: