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The Turbulent Tides of Health Care Change

Would it be hyperbolic to say that Americans grappling with the health care change proposals are more tightly engaged with this issue than with any other domestic issue in the last 50 years? The emotions that charge town hall meetings, radio programs, newspaper editorials, blogs and kitchen table conversations seem stronger and more universal now than they were even during Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society makeover.

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There's been an angry reaction to health care reform at some Town Hall meetings this month. KPBS political correspondent Gloria Penner explores the recent history of public outrage in politics and what forces could be fueling this health care backlash.

That’s when we wrestled with civil rights, racial integration, crime and lawlessness, riots on campus and in the streets, women’s liberation, the war on poverty and the whole sense that America was changing too fast. But the events of 2009 are more personally intense than the changes of the 60s.

Why has the health care overhaul become such a flashpoint for so many? Perhaps we are just too vulnerable these days. Often, people become disturbed, disrupted and confused when they’ve lost economic security and feel that they are out of touch with the new culture and their place in it. Certainly, the joblessness of this recession, the invasion of the social media into our personal lives, plus the election of our first African American president have set the stage for much of the disorientation and powerlessness experienced by large segments of our population -- especially poor, white, working-class, militia-oriented people.

Some believe that resistance to health care change grew powerfully because the change laid out by President Obama early in his candidacy was too dramatic. After his election, he followed the classic role of a leader in a democracy in that he set out a goal and left it up to the people and their elected representatives to figure out the pathways to that goal to provide affordable health coverage and quality care to all Americans.

When he began his health care initiative this year, Mr. Obama set an early deadline and waited for the percolation to begin. The reaction began with a severely divided Congress and quickly spread to the entire nation with all sides mobilizing for an issue that touches everyone, and perhaps is moving too fast for comfort. Indeed, for many, America once again is changing too quickly. Lies, misconceptions, and exaggerations riddle the dialogue. The noise is getting louder and the struggle more fervent in these days before Congress returns to Washington to work on multiple health bills. That work and its results will tell us if the democratic ideal works in this case. We’ll see whether the people’s will is clear enough to set their representatives on a well-defined path toward the goal embraced by their president.

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