Paul Wellman

Under the surreal golden glow cast by the La Brea Fire, hundreds of people thronged to Congressmember Lois Capps’ office on the 300 block of East Carrillo Street yesterday to voice their vehement support – or adamant opposition to – the proposed health care reform package now under consideration by Congress.

While supporters dramatically outnumbered critics of health care plan, the opponents made a respectable show of force and came equipped with a PA system and a make-shift, quasi bluegrass band that played a gentle medley of Beatles songs. (As one of the musicians explained, “Everybody likes the Beatles.”) The late afternoon rally became a battleground for the warring political tribes when it was announced yesterday that busloads of anti-health care reform activists were heading for Santa Barbara from Solvang to take Capps to task for ducking a town hall meeting on the issue organized by local Tea Party advocates. Ironically, Santa Barbara Tea Party members disavowed the Thursday action, explaining that they preferred to engage in conversation and discourse rather than shout fests.

Capps has stated she intends to hold a community forum in early September, preferably in a church where health care opponents presumably might be less rowdy and boisterous. In response to the anti-reform gathering, activists associated with the Democratic Party sent out an all points bulletin via various websites. By the time the anti-health care activists arrived on the scene, all four corners of the intersection had been heavily populated by the plan’s supporters.

Until an actual town hall forum is held, Thursday’s eruption of political street theater provided an ideal venue for both sides to express their views as loudly as possible. The critics echoed many of the same complaints heard at town hall forums across the nation: that the health plan constituted a socialistic take-over of the best health care system in the world, that it opened the door to federally funded abortions, that it would provide health care for illegal immigrants, and that it would mandate euthanasia counseling for senior citizens. Underlying many of these claims was a profound ideological distrust of the federal government, and sense that the health care plan would unleash the unchecked intrusions of Big Brother on the populace.

Supporters of health care reform made up for their lack of a PA system with raw lung power, chants, and signs. A few medical professionals in support of the reform package sought to engage the opponents in debate, pointing out that the health care system is already largely subsidized by the federal government via Medicare and that health care rationing – one of the major fears cited by critics – already takes place under the direction of medical insurance companies. They pointed out that 46 million people currently go without any insurance at all, and charged that the lack of health care is bankrupting thousands of citizens daily.

Most efforts at dialogue quickly proved futile, however, and on occasion devolved in exchanges of profanity and mutual contempt.


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