Marketplace Scratch Pad

"Good manners are important"

Scott Jagow Aug 4, 2009

That’s a quote from Republican Senator Lamar Alexander, who today asked protesters to be more civil when confronting Democrats over the issue of health care reform. If you’ve seen the video from Sunday’s town meeting in Philadelphia, you know what he’s referring to. The question is — is it possible and/or important to have a civil debate about this issue?

Here’s the full quote from Alexander on The Hill’s blog:

“Protests should be constructive,” Alexander said. “I think good manners are important… I’m not going to start criticizing protesters in the United States of America, where we venerate the First Amendment. We’re full of people who want to express their point of view. But I think good manners are important. We’re all used to direct exchanges and people speaking their minds, but we all ought to be able to do that in a civilized way.”

I watched different videos of the town meeting, and for the most part, people asked intelligent questions and made fair comments. The problem was the crowd, as a whole, didn’t really give Senator Arlen Specter and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius respect or much chance to answer the questions. The screaming. Oh, the screaming:

Here’s a clip from one of the questions:

I don’t know where this leaves us. Maybe we’re in the same place we were 200 plus years ago when the country was formed. Democracy is messy and always will be. You’ve got to fight it out to make policy. And I’m sure many people believe they have to kick and scream to get Congress to listen to them.

On the other hand, many of these people don’t seem to be willing to listen to ideas that don’t jibe with their own either. Throwing tantrums and disrespecting people doesn’t usually convince them that they should listen to you.

Is anyone listening?

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