Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Mr. Smith Comes To Lakewood

Caption: Rep. Adam Smith makes introductory remarks to the crowd at a town hall meeting, August 25, 2009.

Image credit: Cujo359

U.S. Representative Adam Smith (WA-09) held a town hall tonight in Lakewood, Washington. This was the first time I had attended one, and I hope it won't be the last.

I must admit to a certain amount of trepidation. Lakewood is Wingnut Central in Smith's district. Its mayor is a Republican, as has been nearly every mayor who has been elected since the town was incorporated roughly thirteen years ago. In addition, this town hall was being held in an outdoor football stadium at a local high school. Given the behavior of conservatives at many earlier summer town halls, it's not exactly the place one would expect decorum.

Caption: Part of the crowd at the Smith town hall meeting in Lakewood, Aug. 25, 2009.

Image credit: Cujo359

What the town hall had going for it, though, is that Lakewood is also home to a great many current and former military people. There were quite a few pieces of camouflage clothing in the crowd, at least one Marine corps hat, and some T-shirts and ballcaps with various unit, navy ship, or defense contractor names on them. These are people who prize respect and order. That, plus Smith's determination to not let the meeting get out of hand, kept things civil for the most part. Smith explained that the more time that was taken up by booing and clapping would not be spent discussing issues, and people generally seemed to understand this. Apart from one jerk who was holding a positively disgusting sign and getting it in the way of as many people as he could (and wouldn't you know it, he was an anti-abortion activist) things were pretty civil. Considering that there must have been at least 2,000 people there, this went amazingly well.

As you can imagine, the most discussed topic was health care.

At the moment it's hard to sort out all the things that were said and responded to, so I'll just have to try to relate some of the more important points:

  • Smith said at least twice that he supported some form of public option. What that might be, I'm not sure.

  • He made a point of saying that he thought the bill was too complicated. The one thing I remember he mentioned eliminating was setting up a federal insurance regulating commission. Yet later on, he also mentioned that if interstate insurance sales were to be authorized, which he seemed to favor, such regulation would clearly be necessary. I'm not sure what to make of this.

  • He also expressed concern about the end-of-life provision. It was hard to hear him at this point due to crowd noise, so I don't know if he favored eliminating it or just limiting it. He did explain, rightly, that it was not mandatory counseling.

  • Several people in the audience spoke in favor of the public option. One spoke in favor of single-payer, or Medicare for everyone. This latter was a theme that Smith picked up on. He doesn't favor it, but seemed to be interested in this in a more limited way.

  • A great deal of discussion surrounded the costs of medical care. Smith made the point that it was possible that if more people were covered for basic medical care, costs, including the government's costs, might go down. He put this as a possibility, rather than a certainty, which I think is smart given the circumstances. Anyone who says he knows for sure what will happen there, particularly given that the bill itself hasn't been finalized, shouldn't be trusted.

  • Someone felt that since the Sioux Indians weren't being provided with proper health care, that the government wouldn't be able to provide us adequate care. As Smith pointed out, there are plenty of things the government gets wrong when it comes to indigenous people, and that doesn't mean it hasn't done those things well for other American populations.

  • Someone demanded that Rep. Smith affirm that he supported capitalism, in contrast to that socialist Obama. Smith replied something to the effect of "My name's Adam Smith. What do you think?" He also pointed out that there were clearly times when the market alone couldn't do what needs to be done. He illustrated this point with what I would call the unfortunate example of the banking crisis, where, as he put it, only the federal government had the money needed to keep things from going completely south.

  • One woman asked if the rules about insurance could be changed so that she could cover her mother under her policy. Because the woman's father had been treated for cancer, he lost his insurance and the mother's. While he was old enough for Medicaid, she wasn't. Now she's on the all-too familiar "survive until Medicare" plan.

I realize that this all sounds pretty sketchy, but between interruptions (such as the aforementioned jerk with his sign getting into an argument with a pregnant woman) and crowd noise, it was tough to be sure what was said. I recorded the first hour or so of the discussion, and if it turns out that makes any of these impressions clearer, I'll update this article.

Meanwhile, it wasn't as bad as I'd feared. There were many strange questions, of course, and a few rude people. For the most part though, things went smoothly, and lots was discussed. I'm not sure what impressions Rep. Smith took with him, but I think he heard a fairly broad range of opinions.

UPDATE (Aug. 26): Added story about the woman who wants to cover her mother on her insurance. It's an interesting question, I think.

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