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Listen to citizens, don’t criticize them

Richard Eckstrom, Comptroller General

During the recent “town hall” meetings held across the country, citizens -- most of them seniors -- voiced opposition to the healthcare proposal being debated by Congress. In turn, supporters of the plan have sought to marginalize those who speak out against it, insisting that their objections are being orchestrated from behind the scenes and even that those who oppose the plan do not have the nation’s best interests at heart.

If the healthcare debate seems heated, perhaps it reflects the magnitude of the issue. It’s one of the most important matters we face, touching nearly every corner of American life – from the quality and cost of the medical care we receive, to the tax rates we pay and the national economy. The intensity of the dialogue should come as no surprise.

In the low point of the debate, two of the major backers of the president’s healthcare reform proposal referred to those who express dissent at the town hall meetings as “un-American.” A third called those citizens “evil-mongers.”

The worst part is that those making the statements are powerful members of Congress. People in such high-ranking positions of public trust should know better.

As I watched clips of the town hall meetings, I saw something quite special – ordinary citizens exercising their right to free speech. We should be thankful we live in a Democracy that tolerates as much. Besides, what good are so-called “town hall meetings” without dissenting viewpoints.

But men and women who attend these town hall meetings have more than a mere right to express themselves; they have good cause, as well. Aside from the fact that messing with someone’s health insurance is always a thorny issue, there are well-founded fears that the current proposal would dramatically widen the federal budget deficit, as well as concerns that government is reaching far beyond its intended limits.

Congress would do well to listen to these crowds, not criticize them.

Those citizens who speak out should be respected, even when their views are different than our own. People who take the time to deliberate on their the future of their nation, their state or their local community – when they could just as easily go about their daily lives and follow events on the nightly news – should be valued, even cherished.

Our local, state and national leaders – from the White House down to the school board – have an obligation to make sure citizens feel free to speak their minds. There’s nothing un-American about it.

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