I was much impressed by Rep. Perriello's command of the details and his disarming manner. When one side or the other began to boo, his gestures brought calm. "In the shadow of Jefferson, we know how to do dissent," he said at the beginning of the evening, a reminder to let everyone be heard. There were no disruptions of the sort that have marred other public meetings around the country.
Those who listened closely heard a Congressman who has followed the nuances of the issue and is not allowing slogans to sway his vote. He kept reminding us that he is looking for a bill that will work, that will lower health care costs and insurance premiums and extend coverage to those who don't have it. The final proposal "will rise or fall on whether it brings down premiums for middle-class families and businesses," he said. He agreed in part, and disagreed in part, with virtually every health care proposal put forward in the room last night, and he clearly stated his reasons why.
The meeting was a reminder of just how polarized this issue has become and how tough it is to be a moderate. Speakers lined up more than an hour before the start of the meeting. We heard from cancer patients and doctors, from those who distrust government and those who have been dropped by their insurance companies. We heard from defenders of insurance companies and skeptics of government programs. We heard from people who have read the current bill in detail, and we heard from someone who wanted to talk about missile defense and North Korea. We heard many viewpoints. I won't say that everyone listened respectfully -- at times the meeting resembled a basketball game with rooters for opposing sides. But those who spoke got their say.
Those who listened carefully heard very human stories of illness and economic calamity, stories of doctors and nurses doing their best in the trenches, stories about fear of getting sick, and stories from those who fear government may botch this and make it worse.
One speaker, Mary Bennett, thanked Rep. Perriello for the meeting, and thanked the crowd for being there to "speak our different truths to each other -- we are all in this democracy together." Let me add my Amen to that.
Photo by Matthew Rosenberg/The Daily Progress