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Hate should not drive health care debate

POSTED August 14, 2009 9:07 p.m.
If my mom or dad caught me on TV acting a complete fool like some of the protesters at the various health care town hall meetings, I can guarantee you that my dad would fly up from Houston and smack the hell out of me.
And I'm 40 years old!
Watching grown people yell, scream, push, boo and act downright unruly is a spectacle that we counsel our children against causing. How many times have we seen kids at school forums act like complete fools and be scolded by their principals? Yet because we have cloaked this absurd behavior in the coat of "passion" and "concern" for the various health bills being debated by the Democratic-controlled Congress, other grown folks have given these folks a pass.
No more. Enough is enough.
If you think for a second that I'm one of these folks who don't understand the rightful concerns of the thousands who are angry, you're dead wrong. I grew up in Houston, and my parents were community activists who cared deeply about crime, parks, the environment and the quality of life for their five children. My mom, Emelda, served as head of The Metropolitan Organization, one of the largest community-based organizations in Houston. I often attended meetings with her (doing my homework as they met). I also traveled with her on trips to City Hall or the Texas Capitol to lobby elected officials. My parents were passionate and cared deeply about the issues on their agenda, but one thing that was strictly forbidden was the kind of aggressive behavior we have witnessed. In fact, if a TMO supporter had gotten out of line, trust me; he would have had a stern talking-to by one of the other leaders.
One of the brilliant decisions by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was refusing to allow provocateurs to be involved in their various marches for civil rights. He understood that the attention of their shenanigans always would overshadow the true purpose of their rightful concern. The issue always should stay front and center, not those who behave like children.
The health care proposals being presented by Congress require the time and attention of all of us. Our concern should be the cost, the ramifications on our existing health insurance, the impact on local and state governments, what it would mean for our national debt, and other important issues. Yet listening to those who are ranting and raving, we are not being treated to a true debate. Instead, we are being treated to yell sessions during which critical voices are being shouted down in favor of those with the biggest mouths.
This is not how civilized people behave. Yes, we have the right to voice dissent, and we should. But not like this.
And as for us in the news media, I would hope that we wouldn't fall for the sensational and only show the folks who are wilding out. If there are town hall meetings that are civilized, then we must present that picture, as well. Yes, we know people are intrigued by conflict and drama, but that shouldn't be the only impression we leave in the minds of the public.
I would hope that those who object to the president's health care reform plans would recognize that in the short term, they are getting lots of attention. We all know this old adage: The squeaky wheel gets the most grease. But for those who are on the fence or not as engaged, they are being turned off by the bad behavior, and I've heard many say they won't bother to attend such town hall meetings for fear of being in a scary environment.
Americans deserve vigorous debate on health care. But this, folks, simply isn't it. It's just rhetorical thuggery, and the last thing we need is a lynch mob mentality dominating this critical issue.
— Roland S. Martin is an award-winning CNN analyst and the author of the forthcoming book "The First: President Barack Obama's Road to the White House as originally reported by Roland S. Martin." Please visit his Web site at www.RolandSMartin.com.

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