I’ve seriously pondered how to approach this month’s commentary. So many things have happened over the past 30-45 days it’s hard to feature just one, so I won’t.
Let’s start with one of the most recent events, namely the state of the union address delivered by President Barack Obama on Tuesday, January 25th. My schedule was open that evening following my Hinckley City Planning Commission meeting. I arrived in time to see the president enter the chamber and move to the podium. His opening greeting to members in attendance, as well as “…my fellow Americans” was all I listened to before heading to my little home office to begin writing this message.
This is a departure for me, intentionally avoiding listening to the state of the union. I’ve listen made it a point to listen to all or most of these addresses for at least fifteen straight years, because I wanted to hear what the President had to say about “our” country.
My purpose in avoiding the speech was not to advocate that everyone else follow my lead on this, but rather it was a deliberate attempt at gauging the impact of a speech from a broad perspective after the fact. Monitoring Facebook and Twitter and a variety of blogs were my chosen social media sources, and I tuned in to Fox, MSNBC, CNN, KARE11 and Public Television to get a sense of the more traditional electronic news sources and their “take.” I also sampled the New York Times, St. Paul Pioneer Press, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Wall Street Journal, St. Cloud Times and the Duluth News Tribune. All of these news sources have their own news accounts, and most have their own spin as well, either through commentary or letters from readers, depending on the outlet.
If you’re now waiting for a mind blowing, game changing revelation based on what I’ve found, don’t hold your breath. What I found was interesting, but not a whole lot different from what you might expect. Bloggers have their own idealized slant, Twitter and Facebook folks are your Tweeps or Friends and you know where they’re at, and the various news outlets behaved in typical fashion. As an aside, it’s become very difficult to find news accounts that don’t have a discernible slant in their news… that’s a blurred line that shows me that the news departments are either lazy, or they just don’t realize the importance of separating news from opinion. That bothers me and it should bother you too, as it does a disservice to people that are looking for news.
This low-tech experiment was done in hopes that I could find a way of explaining how we got to where we are in this country politically. It shouldn’t matter who is delivering the state of the union, be it Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, Dwight Eisenhower, George W. Bush, Gerald Ford, Barack Obama or Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The person at the podium is the president of the United States, and is not the president of the Republican or Democratic Party. We seem to be moving farther and farther away from that ideal. Increasingly it seems that pressure is brought to bear to immediately rebut anything that is said in a public political context. For you historians, 1966 was the first year of a response to the president’s state of the union address from the Party not occupying the White House at the time. QUIZ Questions: Who was the president in 1966, and, who delivered the opposition party’s response to the speech?
Part of the blame for the aforementioned pressure are the advances in technology that now make it possible to get a response sent worldwide within minutes of the event itself. Many times that forces people (apparently) to offer a response or rebuttal to something which they often seem to do it without giving it any thought whatsoever. There seems to be little or no time given to contemplation, or personal reflection, or big picture thinking, just blurt something out just because it can be done. It’s easy to see the vicious circle that’s created by this phenomena – noise generated for the sake of noise. My Dad and my Grandfather always used to say that “some people talk just because they like to hear their head rattle.” Now I know exactly what they meant. Let me add a somewhat modified Twain quote for the times: “News travels all the way around the world before reflection has pulled its boots on.”
Moving on to an issue a bit closer to home, the subject of accountability by the HMOs in Minnesota has continued to gain support and momentum in many advocacy networks, including ours. Meetings and strategy sessions with allies and legislators are being arranged every day as we move ahead with our plans to bring fiscal responsibility to healthcare in Minnesota. We have had extended conversations with legislators, both new and not-as-new, about bringing them up to speed on our work as well as to find out where there is support for accountability and transparency in spending our tax dollars.
David Feinwachs, who was the general counsel for the MN Hospital Association (MHA) for 30 years, has offered his insight and expertise to us. His story was featured in last month’s ECHOES and it gives a snapshot as to why he was relieved of duties, and why his assistance will prove invaluable in making the case for accountability for the billions of tax dollars spent on healthcare. We welcome his input and look forward to a strong working relationship. Shining the light of truth on HMO healthcare delivery in Minnesota is long overdue, but it’s not for lack of trying.
More good news comes from the communications we have had with the newly appointed head of the MN Department of Human Services, Lucinda Jesson, and the new head of the MN Department of Health, Dr. Ed Ehlinger. Both commissioners have agreed to meet with us (Seven County and GMHCC reps) in the next week or so to talk about what needs to be done to improve healthcare in the state. As healthcare advocates, there is good reason for us to be optimistic about what can be accomplished this year in the way of reform.
Peace… and good, affordable, accessible healthcare to all!