Sen. Brown on the Health Care Fight

Sen. Brown on the Health Care Fight

By Rachel Maddow Show - August 11, 2009

MADDOW: Joining us now is Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio. Sen. Brown, thanks very much for being with us tonight.

SEN. SHERROD BROWN (D-OH): Sure. Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW: Today, in New Hampshire, a discussion about healthcare policy. At some town halls across the country today, a shout-fest of intimidation and threats and fighting about whether or not we're now a communist country and calling people Nazis.

What is the distance between these two things going on simultaneously in the country right now?

BROWN: Well, I think when you can get people to sit down and discuss rationally, you end up learning from each other. I was, today, at a chamber of commerce meeting in Dover, Ohio and at a hospital in Chillicothe and another hospital in Cambridge, Ohio.

We had good discussions. We had people that, in some cases, were angry. Some people bordered a little bit on rude. But, you know, I don't dispute - I don't even believe - I do believe that people that disagree with the president, disagree with me and others on this, even people who are angry about it, I think it's a legitimate anger.

But so much of it is based on the fear that - on the fears that people in Washington, that corporate lobbyists, the fears they play on to create fear among people. You know, frankly, Rachel, if we had had these kind of corporate groups in Washington, they were around - been around the country creating the fear that we just saw on television.

If we had seen that 45 years ago, we probably never would have gotten Medicare. That's why it's so important to patiently, one person at a time, explain what this healthcare bill is about. Be patient, even with the anger people show. Don't let them show disrespect.

But at least, stand your ground. Don't get angry. Don't fight back, but answer calmly and rationally, because we need to pass this healthcare bill the same way that some pretty gutsy people 44 years ago passed Medicare.

MADDOW: Nobody expected that healthcare reform would be easy. It's been the great brass ring of American domestic politics for 40, 50, 60 years now in terms of trying to get some sort of significant healthcare reform in this country.

The question, though, is whether or not the way that the opposition to healthcare reform is playing out with these displays of extremist rhetoric, in some cases, with people being sent to hospital with minor injuries, with arrests happening at some town halls, whether this forum, this manifestation of the opposition of healthcare reform make it's more likely or less likely that we'll actually get something passed this year?

BROWN: I think it makes it more likely and here's why. In this chamber of commerce meeting today in Dover, probably half of the meeting was chamber of commerce people at this breakfast. The other half were people that came that were mostly angry and against this and had been reading Web sites and all about socialized medicine, about euthanasia, about the - you know, the so-called death - what do you call it - the death panel that Sarah Palin talked about.

But as those people talked and were angry, the other people in the room, many of whom were Republicans - they were chamber of commerce. Many of them were just shaking their heads and thinking, why don't we have a rational discussion? I can reach those people.

You know, when I hear that North Carolina poll you talked about where half of the Republicans in North Carolina, more than half, think the president's not born in this country or add to that, aren't sure that he was born in this country, those are the people that are the most fearful. Those are the people whose fears are played upon. Those are the people screaming euthanasia, socialized medicine.

One woman stood up in Dover, a woman clearly in her 70s, maybe her 80s, and said, "I hate socialized medicine. I don't want government in my health care." I asked her if she's on Medicare. She said, "Yes, and I'm really pleased with my Medicare." Those people need education instead of the fear-mongers playing up on their fears.

MADDOW: Should the people who are truly - truly fearful, and the people who, whether or not it's out of their own fears or whether or not they're doing it in terms of political activism, are saying things like socialized medicine and euthanasia and the other myths that have been out there.

It makes sense that they should be educated about these things that they are in fact ignorant about them. But if they're not, and this is just politics, is it right and smart for Democrats to engage with them and try to debunk them, try to expose where they're coming from? Or should they be ignored?

BROWN: Well, you can't really ignore them when they're in a meeting. You can't totally ignore them because they're going to stand up and they're yelling and they're screaming. But when they do that, they really push other people away, people that are undecided or thinking, you know, this maybe isn't so bad.

If this group of people who doesn't even believe the president of the United States was born here, if they're that irrational, if they believe that the president of the United States is for euthanasia, if they believe some of these things that the far right is screaming, I don't think they're winning any arguments.

They may have a higher - they may turn up the volume and be louder than we are. But their impatience, their anger, the looks on their faces - I mean, hateful looks on their faces when they call people like me names or they call Barack Obama worse names than they call me, that just ultimately drives people away.

That's what happened in the 2006 and 2000 elections in a lot of ways. The sort of the angry far right made a lot of moderates, independents and some not-so-sure Democrats and some moderate Republicans think, "You know, this political party's not for me anymore. This political party, the Republican Party, is too far out there for me to support. I'm going to listen to what Sherrod Brown says. I'm going to listen to what Shelton Whitehouse or Bob Casey says. I'm going to listen to Barack Obama more than I have because these opponents are just way over the line with what they're saying."

MADDOW: I happen to agree with you 100 percent. I suppose it remains to be seen whether or not it plays out that way. But that certainly is where it feels like it's going now. Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, thanks very much for your time tonight.

BROWN: Always a pleasure. Thank you, Rachel.

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