I Saw Astroturf Grow

Frank Turek
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Posted: Sep 02, 2009 12:01 AM
I Saw Astroturf Grow

When I learned that my Representative, Sue Myrick, would hold a health-care town hall meeting at our local high school, I decided to attend to see firsthand how much of the passion against socialized medicine was the result of real grass roots or just “Astroturf” (as Nancy Pelosi put it). Sue is a strong conservative who came to office as part of the 1994 Republican revolution. Since she’s against the current house bill (HR 3200), I didn’t think all that many would turnout. Wow, was I wrong!

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Let me set the context for you. I live in a half-rural half-residential town about 30 minutes outside of Charlotte, North Carolina. Our population is about 8,000 (not counting cows and horses). There’s one small shopping center with a food store, gas station and a few retail and professional shops. To call it sleepy would be understatement. Comatose is better. In this conservative town, zoning is about the only political issue that gets people fired up. That’s why I didn’t expect too many people to wake themselves up for a healthcare town hall, especially when they knew that their conservative representative was already solidly on their side (our county went 63% to 36% for McCain).

We arrived there half an hour early behind my neighbor, a sheriff’s deputy, who told me that he was called in at the last minute for crowd control. He was right—we found the 600-seat auditorium nearly full. Fifteen minutes later, there was not a seat in the house, and people were gathering outside the doors in the cafeteria. We just didn’t know how many were out there.

Sue opened to applause when she let everyone know that she was against HR 3200. She then offered personal reasons why she opposes socialized medicine in the United States.

"I’m a cancer survivor,” she began. “In 1999, I knew something was wrong and I went to five doctors, I had three mammograms, and it was finally a sixth doctor who ordered an ultrasound that found my cancer. Under a government health care plan, I would not have had the advantage to get all of that done so quickly. In fact, they may have never found my cancer or found it too late."

That resonated with a good friend of mine, a Canadian, who was sitting with us. Ten years ago she lost her father to colon cancer after he was put on a waiting list for a simple colonoscopy. Rationing is the inevitable result of a public takeover, and recent news stories from Canada and Britain confirm it’s happening there.

Before opening the floor to questions, Sue let everyone know that she supports certain health care reforms that would increase competition and reduce costs, such as tort reform and allowing insurance companies more freedom to sell their plans across state lines. She then said she wanted to hear all sides and would stay as long as necessary to give everyone an opportunity to speak—a bold promise given the size of the crowd.

Two long lines formed and most began announcing their opposition to the bill. Applause followed every opposition comment. When Sue repeated every comment so the folks outside could hear (only her microphone was piped outside), we heard roars of applause coming through the doors of the auditorium. It was like an echo—our applause, then theirs.

I wondered how many were out there, so I opened the door and walked into a crowd of literally hundreds of people—there were more outside than inside! Standing, and leaning on railings, they filled the large cafeteria and were straining to hear every word over a couple of small speakers. Keep in mind, they couldn’t see anything; they could only listen. Yet there were hundreds! It reminded me of the time right after 9-11 when people on city streets would gather around radios and TVs to find out what was happening to our country, and maybe to them.

I wasn’t going to ask a question or make a statement, but on my way back in I offered my seat to a friend who had been waiting outside. Since all other seats were taken, all I could do was stand in the question line. A few supporters of the bill— the 10% of the questioners who had the professionally made signs—told Sue that she was “hypocritical” for supporting the socialist Medicare system but not the public option. One guy declared loudly that his life was saved by a single-payer system. He called opponents “stupid” and got so rude that a policeman escorted him from the premises.

Providentially, it was my turn shortly after Mr. single-payer system got booted. Now I’m no expert on the health care system (read Charles Krauthammer and David Limbaugh for that), but I know enough about free markets to see that Mr. single-payer was actually the one stuck on stupid. Sue had already refuted him by mentioning that Medicare is broke.

I added this, “Sue, we keep hearing people talking about the merits of Medicare and other single payer systems. But the main reason those programs can do anything in modern medicine is because we have a free-market system that feeds them most of the innovation and medical breakthroughs. If we kill our free-market system, we’ll be killing the golden goose of healthcare for the entire world!”

Charlotte’s AM news blowtorch, WBT, played some of that quote repeatedly the next day, not because they know me—I’m nobody to them. I’m just a concerned citizen who spoke up to try to make a difference. Many others did too, and some of their comments made the news as well. In the end, about 1400 turned out in our little town of 8,000, and similar crowds attended townhalls the next two nights at other locations in Sue’s district. That’s anything but “Astroturf.”

Thankfully, many more of you all over the country are speaking up to make a difference, which is another reason we know that the current conservative awakening is anything but Astroturf. Astroturf doesn’t grow.

Oh, and there’s still one more reason. True to her word, Representative Sue Myrick stayed for four and a half hours (until 11:00 p.m.) all three nights to hear everyone out. That was too late for the people with the professionally made signs (the actual “Astroturf”). Most of them went home much earlier, while the conservatives kept the heat on to the very end. That’s the kind of passion you must sustain to prevent the government from killing the golden goose of healthcare.