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Harvey Ferdman’s testimony last week at Ed Martin’s “Obamacare hearing” was unique.

Other reform proponents talked about what the bill will accomplish or appealed to the human sympathies of the Tea Partiers in the room, citing the inhumane treatment they’ve gotten from health insurance companies. Ya-da, ya-da, I could hear the hardhearted ones thinking. In fact, one woman began her remarks this way:

One thing I’ve heard here tonight over and over by … these people is that millions–I know there’s thousands and millions dying all over the streets–[at that point she flapped a dismissive hand] I know we’ve heard that from the administration too.

So you see what I mean. When Judith Parker and LaDonna Appelbaum described their problems with health and life insurance quotes, when Bunnie Gronborg explained why the ACA is not socialism, that woman heard: Ya-da, ya-da. But we wanted a chance to speak about what would touch most people. We knew that the callous, ignorant folks who listen to the lies of Schlafly, et. al. would figuratively clap their hands over their ears, that hearing it wouldn’t  change them. We just didn’t want them holing up in their comfy echo chamber. We wanted to make them uneasy.

But Harvey took a different approach. He crafted a message based on their ideology. If anything, that upset them more than what they saw as sob stories from other proponents of reform. But Harvey delivered his speech in the most sweet spirited tone possible–which went some way toward quieting them.

Here’s the transcript, but you’d gain by watching it.

We’ve all experienced group plans. The things about a group plan is that when you change employers, they can’t refuse you for a pre-existing condition. Why is that? That’s because if only people who need insurance bought insurance, the insurance companies would be broke. Right? So the group plans, they’re spreading out that small predictable risk against that big hopefully not gonna happen risk. And that’s partially what’s happening with what you guys are calling Obamacare–I call it affectionately Obamacare. And that’s what they’re doing by requiring that everyone participates, so that the healthy and the sick all share that cost, so no … so the insurance companies can afford to stay in business. If we don’t require everyone to have health insurance, the insurance companies are going to go broke.

That’s my first point. My second point is, honestly I would much rather have an accountable government [derisive laughter], who I can elect every two or three years. You guys, you guys, [trying to be heard above the laughter] you guys are a good example. There’s been a lot of political footholds made by the Tea Party. I respect that. You guys are a good example. You can change the politics. You can change the politicians. But I cannot change the bureacrats and the profit-oriented people who run the insurance companies. If they make a decision [clapping from proponents of reform], if they make a decision about the end of life, about me, I can’t fire them. But I can get my politicians out of office and put someone in there who believes the way I do.

If you watched the video, you heard Harvey’s tone of voice and the audience’s cynical reaction. You saw the gray haired gentleman in the frame with Harvey shaking his head at all the critical points in the speech. They’re a concrete wall. They believe that business is never wrong, and that if you don’t get what you need in life, it’s because you weren’t disciplined enough.

What George Lakoff said on this point bears repeating:

The way to understand the conservative moral system is to consider a strict father family. The father is The Decider, the ultimate moral authority in the family. His authority must not be challenged. His job is to protect the family, to support the family (by winning competitions in the marketplace), and to teach his kids right from wrong by disciplining them physically when they do wrong. The use of force is necessary and required. Only then will children develop the internal discipline to become moral beings. And only with such discipline will they be able to prosper. And what of people who are not prosperous? They don’t have discipline, and without discipline they cannot be moral, so they deserve their poverty. The good people are hence the prosperous people. Helping others takes away their discipline, and hence makes them both unable to prosper on their own and function morally.

It’s Calvinism. I was raised with it. Prosperity is a sign that God loves you and that you are one of the elect. Poor people are not favored by God. It’s some ugly stuff, especially when it starts influencing public policy, because it can cause, as the lady said, “millions–thousands and millions littering the streets”. Not literally of course. No, most of them die unobtrusively in their houses. How convenient for the Corpublicans.

I respect Harvey for a beautifully crafted argument and for his gentle tone. And although he made little progress against those cussedly bullheaded and hardhearted people, he could still give elected Democrats a lesson in how to present our point of view.


Coverage of the Ed Martin event has been thorough on the Missouri progressive blogosphere. St. Louis Activist Hub, in fact, has three postings:

FiredUp! has one: This Is What a Better Informed and Better Organized Movement Looks Like.

Women’s Voices Raised for Social Justice has a posting on its Facebook Page: Women’s Voices Members speak out at Health Care Forum

All that is in addition to my first piece, In which I explain who showed up for Ed Martin’s dance and my two videos–so far–of Schlafly: MS. Schlafly takes on “Obamacare” and But, but … I thought Republicans liked police states.