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Be respectful over health care reform debate, he says


These days, there are a lot of strange ideas about President Obama's proposed reform of the health care system floating around.

According to some of the current misinformation, health care reform bills before Congress would require everything from public financing of abortion to mandatory euthanasia for the elderly.

It would be easy to attribute all this to anti-governmental paranoia arising from the grass roots. But there is ample indication these confusions are the deliberate product of what has been called an "Astroturf" movement, one that masquerades as grass roots, but actually emanates top-down from well-funded organizations that are anything but populist.

This Astroturf movement, apparently orchestrated by the health insurance industry with help from the Republican Party, has in recent weeks stoked public hysteria to a fevered intensity. Well-organized hecklers have shouted down elected officials trying to hold town hall-style meetings to discuss health care reform. In the most extreme cases, Congressional representatives have been hung in effigy and death threats made.

It's time for us to get a grip on our fears and turn off the media's shouting heads, who are making it more difficult to think and speak clearly about an important and complex issue.

I hope our communities in Western Wisconsin can be more respectful to our elected representatives when they come to solicit our input. With each of us just a single bad day away from losing our job and health insurance, reform is not just a "poor people's" issue, but a matter of life and death for all Americans. We can't afford to stand by and let bullying yahoos turn a necessary dialog into a sideshow.

Thomas R. Smith

River Falls