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MLieberman

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If This is What Counts for Civil Discourse…

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By Mike Lieberman, Chair, Arlington County Democratic Committee
January 2011

"Repealing the Job-Killing Healthcare Law Act."  This is what the new Republican leadership chose to call its bill to repeal the new health care reform bill.  "Job-Killing" - a dubious claim at best, and a needlessly incendiary term at worst, especially for a bill that has no chance of being enacted into law.

Over last several years, I, like so many of Americans, have cringed at the tone of our public discourse.  It seems as though name calling and mud slinging is now considered a baseline for political debate, with every new low breathlessly covered by a media hungry to decide which side has scored more points, and what those points could mean for an election now nearly two years away.

Recent history is replete with discouraging examples of this demoguery - from Republican Congressman Joe Wilson shouting "you lie" at President Obama during last year's State of the Union address, to Republican Leader John Boehner's overheated screams of "Hell No" on the House floor during the debate on the health care reform bill, to then-candidate and now Republican Congressman Ben Quayle claiming in a campaign ad that "Barack Obama is the worst president in history" and that he would "go to Washington and knock the hell out of the place."  But Republicans are not alone in these outbursts.  Equally shameful are Democratic exhortations that Republican claims of a "government takeover of health care [is] ia big lie, just like Goebbels," equating Republican arguments to the lies told to Jews during the Holocaust.

Such claims are all the more discouraging because they are unnecessary.  Our elected representatives are expected to stick to their principles; indeed, we often elect people we are confident will do so.  But it is possible to disagree on an issue even as heated as health care reform without claiming the other side is "job-killing," comparing them to Nazis, or claiming they will establish death panels to kill your grandmother.

A Moment to Remember

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Sixteen short months ago, Barack Obama stood in Grant Park and reminded us that elections are not the change we seek; they are only the chance for us to make that change.  With this week's historic vote on health care reform, our President made good on that promise.

Health care reform is about providing for those who cannot provide for themselves.  It is about lowering costs to make health care more affordable for everyday Americans.  It is about modernizing our health care infrastructure to ensure it can respond to ever-increasing demands.  

It is normal these days to be cynical about politics.  Indeed, you cannot help but scratch your head at the name-calling and personal attacks that all-too-often characterize our political discourse.  

But as my wife and I sat watching the health care vote on C-SPAN this Sunday evening, I was reminded that through all the noise and all the bickering, real good can happen through politics.  I firmly believe that this health care package will not only bring needed reform to the health care system; it will provide new momentum and renewed energy among Democrats to take on the many other areas in need of change in our country - environmental protections, financial reform, and a balanced budget, just to name a few.

Democrats in Arlington should feel proud that we had a role in electing President Barack Obama.  The health care bill stands as a telling reminder about why we work so hard at election time.   But it should also serve as a reminder that activism does not end at the ballot box.  It is our duty as Democrats to work year round, to ensure that our voices are heard by our elected officials, and to ensure that our neighbors know how important it is to get involved.  

I will always remember the passage of this year's health care bill as a moment that renewed my faith in the political process.  It was a moment that made me believe that the President was right when he said three simple words - Yes We Can.

Mike Lieberman is the Chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

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