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December 29, 2009

Why So Much Anger?

Roy Meachum

His name does not come to mind, nor his party; a man observed the anger on today’s Capitol Hill is greater than the Civil War run-up when congressmen beat and struck each other. In at least one case, a legislator was “called out,” invited to duel for words said on the floor.


With the man, I agree.


In the 1850s passions in both the Senate and House chambers were ignited by a single issue: Slavery. That rancor might slip into other issues, especially when a proponent or opponent had made himself singularly obnoxious and generated hard feelings. But in the end, the focus was on the men, women and children rendered as mere property in the Constitution.


Compared to modern times, the raving, insulting language lifted up to the capitol dome preceding the War Between the States was almost moderate. More typical now is agreeing to a position and then zipping up, except for occasional statements delivered with malice and hatred. Health care is the hottest issue, but not the only one.


A Republican friend claimed the Sturm and Drang now originates in Democrats’ failure to speak to his party’s congressional representatives. He points out GOP members are not permitted to contribute in preparatory conferences held behind closed doors: what the public is hearing frustration. I agree.


But not for the reasons he gives. After those eight years, including Bill Clinton’s last term, there is frustration over having lost power. Republicans could count on slipping anything they want into a bill, assured of Oval Office approval. In those same years, Democrats veering from the presidential policy faced an assured veto by George W. Bush.


Furthermore, as for the charge that GOP members are shut out entirely, then how did Maine Sen. Olympia Snow announce publicly last autumn she was backing the bill; she changed her mind later. She even voted to move health care out of the Finance Committee.

People concerned about the government getting between them and their personal physician underestimate the political clout of the American Medical Association; the association stands by a need to reform medical care in this country. The AMA backs the congressional effort to reform medical systems.


In case the radical right didn’t notice, the American Association of Retired Persons approved the current Senate and House bills. The AARP is made up of older people, those more likely to visit doctors and hospitals.


No one I know has read the several thousand pages that Congress is working with. My conservative friend and his ilk are reacting to rumor and each other. He agreed the proposals might come off the Hill in different shape than they are now. That confirms my experience working in Washington.


Whatever the House and Senate propose that’s signed into law by this Democratic president will come out a modified version of whatever is being said on the streets and telephones. My suggestion, meanwhile, comes down in a phrase: Critics are beating at butterflies.


Politics now remind me of lines from a Vachel Lindsay poem:


“Sagged and reeled and pounded on the table,

            Pounded on the table.

            Beat an empty barrel with the handle of a


            Hard as they were able.”


“Pounded” and “empty” are the key words in considering present-day Hill politics.


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