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As Long as We Remember...

August 18, 2009

National Rage

Roy Meachum

Whatever the topic, the reaction is rage. In some circles the mention of “abortion” brings heated words. The state of the economy launches tirades. But I’ve never seen the furor erupted by President Barack Obama’s hopes to reform the national health care.


Former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin evoked the image of Jews being gassed in Hitler’s concentration camps. Like death panels, she describes the usual conferences between doctors and the patient’s relatives before making decisions on whether to terminate treatment of hopeless cases. People, the meetings are held right now; the item up for debate, as I understand, is the question of who pays for the physicians’ time; some insurance companies apparently don’t cover the costs.


This is but an echo of the debate held over a Florida woman kept alive by machines when all her faculties had failed. In that instance, a prominent U.S. senator, who was also a physician, entered the fray and was widely quoted; he later admitted he had not examined the patient except by clips on television. His response was therefore not professional. But politically he gained a whole lot of mileage. Curiously, for me, anyway, he did not stand as a candidate for reelection.


In my 18th century room on North Market, I frequently wonder what the hell is going on outside the yellow door. There are passions afoot that leave me confused. I simply don’t understand.


On the health care imbroglio, protesters make signs on what they must know as half-truths, at least. Since there is no bill in the House of Representatives, who can possibly know, what will emerge from the Capitol Hill wrangling? True, Speaker Nancy Pelosi has made statements about what she thinks and wants. But dozens of her colleagues disagree; some Democrats forcefully say she does not speak for them.


And if some bill is passed by the lower chamber, the Senate must have its say: the president’s majority is skating on very thin ice. His party could lose its edge, and more, it the Republicans go along partisan lines. There may well be defections; the GOP should easily pick up Democrats if any of the more outrageous charges are proposed. The earliest vote cannot now come until September: that begins another election year for representatives. Before any reforms can administratively go into effect, citizens will have their say.


With all that known, why is the current national ambiance so loaded with hate? To a dispassionate observer, the difference may very well be in the media. Critics charged “socialism” when Franklin Delano Roosevelt fathered the New Deal. But television did not exist and radio in this country was federally mandated to be non-partisan, especially on controversial issues. Electronic journalism might not have been really objective. After all, human beings put the radio broadcasts on the air. But, commentators, like H.G. Kaltenborn and Walter Winchell, operated only on networks; local stations had no license to thunder for or against causes.


The multiplication of radio and TV – especially when cable channels are added – leaves companies wrestling with alligators to build audience and ratings. The sole blessing I can see in the present mess is that advertisers do not always buy the larger audiences; they are very much concerned with demographics, which spell out the individual characteristics of those paying attention to the microphones and cameras.


Sponsors insist on targeting very specific segments of the general population. This may be the salvation for the right of free commercial speech: Anyone can say anything as long as someone pays the bill, costs plus profits. People may listen or watch, as they choose: that’s how the system exists, fully guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.


In my columns, I have been guilty of agitating over a number of people and projects, of course. But my columns have always been restrained in language. And that might make a difference – to me, at any rate.


The rage I hear pouring forth nationally baffles and saddens my graying head.


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