"Democracy is messy." — Donald Rumsfeld
It's hard to determine who are the most na?e — the people who readily accept as gospel truth any anti-health-care reform argument they read on the Internet, or President Barack Obama's health-reform supporters who wring their hands and complain about how obnoxious and boorish people are at town hall meetings.
But the White House and Democratic leaders would have us believe there was some time in U.S. history when politically charged people met in public to debate a contentious issue calmly and rationally, politely considering all sides before calmly walking home to choose sides in the quiet of their studies.
I consider myself fairly knowledgeable about U.S. history, and I can't think of such a time. Beginning with the Whiskey Rebellion and continuing through issues such as slavery, the draft (during the Civil War and through Vietnam), the gold standard, numerous tax increases and President George W. Bush's decision to attack Iraq, public debate has consisted of protests, shouts and vented anger; sometimes — unfortunately — even violence.
So when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi refers to the people who have been loudly disrupting town hall meetings as "simply un-American," I wonder in which America she has been living.
It couldn't be the America I saw in 2006, when Rocky Anderson, as mayor of Salt Lake, staged loud protests around City Hall against Bush, who happened to be visiting the city that day.
This newspaper's editorial page had plenty to say about that, including that Anderson was embarrassing the city and diminishing his office. But the paper never once called him un-American. In fact, it acknowledged he had every right, as an American, to do what he did.
As do the people who have raised ruckuses at recent town hall meetings. Are these people boorish, loud, obnoxious and, in many cases, ill-informed? Yes. Are many of them uninterested in hearing what members of Congress really have to say in defense of health-care reform? Yes.
But consider another manifestation of this democratic spirit — the one that took place in Utah's Jordan School District last week. Were some of the people who showed up at a hearing to protest a proposed tax increase boorish, loud, obnoxious and, in many ways, ill-informed? Yes. Were many of them uninterested in hearing what school board members really had to say in defense of the tax hike? Yes.
But, uninformed as they may have been about the details of the school district budget, they knew one thing with 100 percent accuracy: Their taxes were about to go up considerably, and that would affect their lives personally. That is no less real than any of the reasons the district had to justify itself.
By the same token, the folks who storm town hall meetings know one thing: Health-care reform is going to affect them personally and deeply. The draft of the bill I have is 1,018 pages long, and the push is on to pass it, or something like it, quickly. It's a safe bet many of the congressmen and women leading the town hall meetings don't know much more about it than the people Pelosi called un-American. Who is going to lead intelligent debate?
There is one time when many Americans do consider all sides before quietly making a choice. That is during an election. Why? Because power, during elections, belongs to them. They get to decide.
With health-care reform, as with all the other passionate issues in the history of the republic, power resides in the hands of those already elected. People feel a need to be heard. One thing ought to be clear by now. Many Americans do not want a health-care reform that dramatically increases government's role.
Rumsfeld did a lot of things wrong after overthrowing the Iraqi regime. But he got the essence of democracy right. It is messy. And that messiness is as American as it gets.