With television showing summer reruns, thank God for the national health-care debate to entertain us. But Rep. Bart Gordon's much-anticipated town hall this week, dubbed the "Brawl in the 'Boro" by eager press wags, was a little anticlimactic. It was like watching the fourth Nazi scalping in Inglourious Basterds. We must be desensitized.
So, surprisingly, it didn't seem surprising when Brad Turner of Smyrna stood at the microphone and professed his belief that the government is out to end the life of a sick loved one.
"My daughter has cerebral palsy," Turner said, "and this is going to deny treatment to her because she's not viable."
Nor did anyone bat an eye when the United States congressman, in response, vowed that Uncle Sam would never take his mother, no sir.
"Brad," Gordon said, "my mother is 83 years old. She had an aorta valve replacement less than a year ago. She's a breast cancer survivor. If there was some type of a death panel, she would be knocking on the door. I'm opposed to anything that's anywhere close to rationing or any type of a death panel—for your daughter, or for my mother, or for anyone else."
Only a few days ago, this would have set off a frenzy of national chatter. Now, it's all too predictable—merely yet another humiliation of a member of Congress by the far right.
Angry cranks dominated the meeting of 900 people crammed into MTSU's Tucker Theater. They hissed and yelled "Shame on you!" as Gordon appeared, then proceeded to shout him down as he tried to speak. They booed almost his every comment, even when he mentioned that his mother and father used to teach at public schools in his district.
"I'm sorry if you can't hear me," the exasperated Gordon said. "There are some folks making it hard."
As his constituents ranted one by one, Gordon sat under the bright stage lights as if accused of unknown crimes in a surreal Kafka show trial. He probably was hoping he'd turn into a cockroach.
"The Bible says thou shalt not kill," Bernadette Ash yelled at Gordon, apropos of not much. "Does the Constitution mean anything to you and your friends in this current administration? If you didn't birth or create us like God did, who are you to think that you have the right to control us and every aspect of our lives?"
The outraged Jake Robinson informed the congressman, "The third largest employer in the world is the United Kingdom national health care system, only behind the Chinese red army and India's railroad system." This comment inexplicably sparked a wild roar from the crowd.
Gordon is one of 52 Blue Dog Democrats in the House caught in a tight spot in the health care debate. For years, they've survived in their conservative districts by voting Republican Lite. Democrats give them a pass on most issues. But this is a crossroads moment for the party, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to achieve the Democratic dream of universal health care. To Democrats, Blue Dogs are disloyal because they don't support the essential element in any liberal's reform of the system: the creation of a public insurance plan.
Nashville's own congressman, Jim Cooper, drew the ire of the liberal blog Daily Kos this week for refusing to come onboard. Cooper insists he's not against the public option, but he's sponsoring reform legislation that doesn't provide for one.
According to a Daily Kos poll, which the blog conducted to pressure Cooper, 61 percent of Cooper's constituents and 80 percent of Democrats in his district favor the public option. If Cooper opposes the public option, that would make 47 percent of Democrats less likely to vote for his reelection, according to the poll.
"There is certainly an opening for a strong primary challenge," Kos wrote. "Cooper isn't the lock many (including him) believe him to be. And why are the natives restless? ...While he's supposed to represent his constituents, he seems more concerned with representing the insurance companies. It's more lucrative that way.
"Cooper has two options. He can stop obstructing and get aboard the public option, or he should start gearing up for a tough primary in 2010. Then he can determine if all that insurance money is really worth the hassle."
Cooper, who has taken $921,670 from health and insurance companies in the last 20 years, fired back by accusing the blog of cooking up the poll to make him look bad. "Private polls are inherently inaccurate," he said, "and most people disregard them. He who pays the piper calls the tune, and the Daily Kos got what it wanted."
Unlike Gordon, Cooper has declined to hold town halls during his summer vacation, choosing instead to give civic club speeches and to meet one-on-one with constituents. Protesters from both sides rallied outside his Church Street office Saturday, but the shades were drawn and Cooper wasn't there.
To reporters after his town hall, Gordon seemed happy to have emerged physically unscathed.
"Quite frankly, I didn't want to see anybody get hurt or anything happen," Gordon said, then added, "I think it was a very civil meeting tonight." (Compared to a Friday Night Smackdown, maybe it was.) Then the congressman apologized and excused himself.
"My mother was afraid that I might not survive this tonight, and she goes to bed at 9 o'clock," Gordon said. "So I think y'all need to let me go so she can find out her baby boy is alive and well."
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