On Class, Health Care, and Being Heard

Among my friends on FaceBook these days, there is lively dissemination of news clips,  videos and commentary about the health care debate.  I’m learning a great  deal from all of this.  I feel vinidated that I’m on the right side.

Today, someone that I respect a great deal  posted this:

I wondered while watching this if “Real Man” was convinced. I somehow don’t think so and I don’t think that in the end, Real Man was the audience for this video.

I wondered if, of all the feedback that Sanders and others are getting on health care, it was deliberate that the opposition voice to Sander’s clipped New England accent was  a bearded southern man in a baseball cap and t-shirt.

I wondered, in situations like this, about the differences between answering someone’s concerns and shutting down the conversation by proving that you’re smarter. There isn’t a thing that Sander’s says here that I’d disagree with, but at the  same time,  the contrast in syntax and vocabulary (though Sanders starts off differently, even throwing out an “ain’t”) is striking. Does Sanders really think that Real Man and those he represents will smack their heads in amazement at how clear things now have become  when they hear “dissemination of information in a democratic society” and “‘cost effective health care” in response to what they’re saying?

I’m not advocating talking down to people.

I do want to think about ways of communicating that go beyond didactic argument.

I freely acknowledge that it’s likely because I had to come face to face with my own inadequacies in responding to fear about failing health and my deep frustration that I had no way to counter someone’s adamant insistence that the lies in the health care debate  are true that my class radar is set to “over-sensitive”.

But I wonder why, in these weeks of debate, we have educated politicians speaking  on behalf of workers in desperate need of health care reform while “the people” that Sanders references  have rarely been positioned to speak for themselves.  I’ve wondered why, in the media,  those politicians don’t name names in the insurance industry but instead refute the (often working-class) public voices of opposition to reform so that  the insurance industry is getting away with framing this as a fight  between angry white working-class people and  educated congress people, not as  between the health care industry and the citizenry (and criticizing Fox News is way too easy a target…).

And I wonder — over and over — why it is seems impossible to speak across these divisions and why the Left has been so ineffective.

So I wonder if the spokespeople on the Left are willing to step away from the podium to let people tell their own stories.  I wonder if, in this  train wreck of “debate”, there is room for the affective as well as the intellectual.   We have the tools now for everyone to powerfully convey their own stories and to disseminate them widely. And stories can move in ways that logic and argument cannot.

I wonder, if instead of refutation  in middle-class syntax, there isn’t a need for more stories. I wonder if we who are well-educated and confident in the power of our rational argument can make room also for story.

Can we stop arguing– at least some of the time –and also ensure that everyone has access to the  tools to powerfully tell their own stories?

Are we willing to share  the podium?

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