As we've pointed out before, democracy can be a messy way to run a country. But it's the American way, which is why we sometimes have to hammer out a problem the hard way.
So goes the debate over how to reform health insurance. While most agree the system needs improvement, ideas on how to fix it run the gamut: More free market options, more public options, all of one or the other and some in-between.
There is some consensus that more Americans need coverage, whatever their job status; providing it keeps them out of emergency rooms for minor ailments, which drives up costs. Yet any changes need to provide flexibility and choice, not lock everyone into a one-size-fits-all federal plan that will raise the tax burden on future generations.
Whatever one may believe, we can agree it's a complex issue not easily resolved. That's one reason Congress hasn't been able to do so.
So after a summer of debate on Capitol Hill, lawmakers decided to return home during the August break to hear what their constituents had to say. Many scheduled public town hall events to let residents share their ideas.
And boy, have they been hearing it. Quite a few angry folks have showed up to protest, toting signs and shouting down elected officials as they speak. A few encounters have led to heated exchanges inside and outside the venues.
One event was held last week by the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce, at which Rep. Nathan Deal, ranking GOP member of the House Subcommittee on Health, and fellow Rep. Phil Gingrey, a physician by trade, offered their views. The event came off without the hostile receptions we've seen elsewhere.
Not so elsewhere. One amped-up partisan painted a swastika on a sign outside the Marietta office of Georgia Rep. David Scott, who had scolded a heckler at a public event a few days earlier.
Others have added a Hitler mustache to portraits of President Barack Obama on signs seen outside of some meetings. They apparently fail to see the irony that Nazis promoted a "master race" of blonde-haired, blue-eyed Aryans, and would welcome neither Scott nor Obama into the fold.
Anyway, when did the word "Nazi" become devalued to mean "someone who disagrees with me politically?" Nazis were responsible for the deaths of millions during World War II; when it comes to bad guys, they stand alone. Any brave veterans who served to defeat them, along with their widows and descendants, should not be painted by such a despicable epithet because they seem too conservative or too liberal to suit some tastes.
The backlash against the protesters have been equally shrill, many called un-American. But there's nothing more American than speaking up to challenge the powers-that-be when we think they're wrong. That's why the town hall events have served a purpose, even if the noise often has drowned out the message. The fact that people are upset is something our leaders will keep fresh in their minds when they go back to Washington.
People get nervous when Congress rushes to pass something as complex and involved as health care reform without taking all sides into account. And as Gingrey mentioned, when they fail to explain some of their proposals effectively, that leaves others to fill in the gaps, often with sketchy information.
But despite what many have been led to think, there is no consensus plan, just a handful of different ideas coursing through committees in both houses of Congress. Many have bought into assumptions about a "death panel" and other doomsday scenarios that some commentators, and one former vice presidential candidate, have trumped up to fan the flames of anger and fear.
To be sure, one person's civil protest is another's angry mob, depending on your point of view. But while some degree of emotion is understandable, it's time for the torch-and-pitchfork crowd to turn down the heat so we can have a national conversation instead of a rugby match.
There are valid arguments from all sides in the health debate, and all need to be heard. Yet one cannot shout and listen at the same time. The battle of public opinion should be fought with strength of one's ideas, not their volume.
The fact that people are upset, justified or not, has been duly noted. Now that they have that off their chests, perhaps cooler heads can take up the cause.
There is much to be gained by sorting out the complexities and inefficiency of our health insurance system, but with answers and ideas, not shouted slogans and hateful rhetoric.