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Borger: Stop the shouting on health care

  • Story Highlights
  • Gloria Borger: Congressional recess provides chance for health care discussion
  • She says some people more interested in shouting than serious talk
  • She says Congress is grappling with a tough, complex issue
  • Borger: Stop reducing complicated issues to simplistic sound bites
By Gloria Borger
CNN Senior Political Analyst
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Editor's note: Gloria Borger is a senior political analyst for CNN, appearing regularly on CNN's "The Situation Room," "Campbell Brown," "AC360°" and "State of the Union With John King," as well as special event coverage.

Gloria Borger says we could be in for a month of venting sessions aimed at members of Congress.

Gloria Borger says we could be in for a month of venting sessions aimed at members of Congress.

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Ah, the summer.

Time for all those members of Congress to go home, meet with their constituents, get their input on health care reform and take back what they have learned from the voters.

Not exactly.

In some town hall meetings around the country, anger and fear are trumping any constructive argument -- at least so far.

Recently, for instance, Sen. Arlen Specter held a town hall meeting with Kathleen Sebelius, the Health and Human Services secretary. In attempting to answer questions, they were shouted down by folks more interested in venting than discussing.

On the conservative FreedomWorks Web site, the display was headlined "Specter Gets Schooled." Above the video of the event, the site says "... this is a must watch and a must emulate at town halls across the country over the next month."

Really?

What about those folks who are actually interested in debating and discussing a very complex issue they're trying to digest? There are some who may actually want to figure out the best way to solve the health care problem.

What ever happened to asking questions about the quality of care, the cost of insurance, the impact of any public plan on the health care system? After all, this has been a turbulent economic time for this country, and another huge shock to the system is naturally worrisome.

Especially when it comes to an issue as complex as health care.

But it's not just the folks at these town halls who have learned how to heckle. Their bad behavior is a derivative of the questionable quality of the political debate they listen to every day. Indeed, if there's one thing we've gotten really good at over the years, it's this: reducing complicated problems to bite-sized slogans. It seems to work, so we keep doing it.

Ipso facto, Obama's reform ideas become "socialism" to his Republican critics. And the administration is not above creating a handy bogeyman of its own: the insurance companies. At least according to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who accuses them of "full-force carpet-bombing and shock and awe against the public option." Too bad they actually support the rest of reform, and are still running positive ads about the effort.

They weren't at the table at all 16 years ago when Hillary Clinton's effort at reform failed. The world has changed since then, and the congressional plans for reforming health care have changed, too. But the invective of the debate, sad to say, has not.

The effort on Capitol Hill has been serious. I hate to sound like Pollyanna, but members of Congress are actually doing some real work. Some policy differences may never get resolved because they are too ideological; others are regional, and that's tough, too. But they're working at it, for hours on end, behind closed doors. No cameras, no grandstanding.

One of those working the hardest, Republican Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, was derided at a town hall recently on the matter of his own health insurance. So here's the fellow who is spending every waking hour trying to get a bipartisan measure that can pass the Senate -- and be fair to Iowans -- and he goes home and gets an earful.

Maybe the discourse will become more productive as the summer progresses. And maybe not. But the health care dilemma remains, no matter how loud the discussion. As John F. Kennedy told us, "To govern is to choose." Especially when the choices are not easy.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Gloria Borger.

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