This is part 3. Part 1 is here. Part 2 is here.
Despite the contentious nature of Kagen's town hall, there are some initial conclusions that can be drawn from the experience.
First, people are scared. Literally scared. Two of the more thoughtful and less boisterous speakers from the audience (one man and one woman) both used the word scared and both seemed sincere. During his comment the man rattled off a list of what have largely become buzz words for government intervention (Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Medicare, Medicaid, etc.) and he ended with what was almost a plea for help, stating that he was afraid of his own government.
Next, concern over illegal immigration and, more specifically, about the use of government money to provide services to illegal immigrants is quite high. Those in other parts of the country can dismiss this as flyover country racism or xenophobia, but it is real. People feel threatened by this notion (whether actual or perceived) and this will most likely continue to shape at least some portion of the debate. Kagen did his best to try and persuade people that the current bill wouldn't allow coverage of illegal aliens, but the crowd in front of Kagen clearly wasn't having any of it.
Also, two of the Obama administrations biggest talking points (probably the two biggest) are clearly not being taken seriously by the voters as represented by those in attendance at the town hall.
First, the idea that if you like your current health coverage, you will get to keep it. Every time Kagen repeated this a collective groan went up from the crowd. Absolutely no one took this claim seriously. At one point a man read from the bill itself about the grandfather clause for plans in effect prior to the effective date of the legislation. The question was why is there a need to grandfather in plans that Obama says won't have to change. to which there was no clear answer.
Second, no one was buying that taxes on the wealthy alone would be enough to pay for both the health care bill and all of the other recent spending that the government has undertaken. When Kagen used the line regarding taxing those making over $250k only, he was shouted down. It didn't seem to strike Kagen as incongruous that behind him was a sign put up by his office that included a phrase about no free lunch while he was offering lunch to everyone in the room on the tab of those earning over $250k per year.
Finally, and this is purely a political matter, Kagen acquitted himself well given the onslaught, but at times he was his own worst enemy. If someone would ask him about a specific section of the bill he would occasionally open his copy and begin reading it to us. It is not understandable. Reading it aloud made him sound foolish.
He seemed to bring the crowd around talking about his own previous health care proposal and his support of Ron Paul's bill to the audit the Fed, but within a few minutes he put his foot in his mouth. Someone from the back of the room shouted to ask him why he didn't accept Medicaid patients when he was a practicing physician. He was taken aback by this and indicated that it was an outright lie. He went on to explain that he did accept Medicaid patients, but that concerning those patients he, "didn't sign a contract with the Federal goverment," at which point the room erupted in jeers.
The obvious implication was that if he couldn't sign on to the offer the goverment was making why should we.
And judging by the behavior of those in attendance tonight, no one was.