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Our view: 8th District ripe for debate on health-care reform

In 35 years as a representative of Minnesota's 8th Congressional District, U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar has "done town halls," as he said in a News Tribune story yesterday. "A thousand of them."...

In 35 years as a representative of Minnesota's 8th Congressional District, U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar has "done town halls," as he said in a News Tribune story yesterday. "A thousand of them."

So why not one more -- or two or three -- on health-care reform, a topic that is polarizing the Northland and nation and that has grown from a groundswell of concern into a firestorm of politics, partisanship and paranoia?

Yes, some town halls held last month and earlier this summer deteriorated into shouting matches ripe with misinformation and half-truths and devoid of civility and respectful listening.

But were those sessions any less valuable than the seven meetings on health-care reform Oberstar held this week while back home in his district? The congressman met with senior citizens, senior advocates, union leaders, medical students and a family that has struggled to obtain health coverage, among others specifically selected. Not surprisingly, nearly everyone he met with sided with him on the need for a national overhaul in the way health care is provided.

"[Health-care reform] is something Jim literally has spent his career working on and dealing with," Oberstar spokesman John Schadl told the News Tribune editorial page yesterday. "It's not like this is a new issue and he's going to be blindsided on it and not in touch with what the people of his district think."

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Health care may not be a new debate, but never before has it been under such scrutiny or more in the public eye, given the push for reform from the White House. And how does Oberstar know for sure he's in touch with his district while meeting only with constituents who see the way he does?

"I have heard from people in e-mail and in phone messages and correspondence, snail mail, and I've seen their views," Oberstar said in yesterday's story. "There are people whose concerns are run-of-the-mill, pragmatic things, and then there are people who no amount of conversation will convince them."

Does that mean run-of-the-mill concerns can be dismissed? Or ignored?

And even if an elected leader can't convince a constituent to see an issue the way he or she does, they can still at least listen.

Oberstar has served Minnesota and the 8th Congressional District with honor, dedication and tireless devotion. And his staff member Schadl did raise a good point yesterday by asking, "What is the point of holding a meeting that allows your opposition to disrupt it and to disseminate bad information?"

But isn't that precisely the reason to hold public meetings to which everyone is invited? To provide accurate information, to set straight erroneous rumors and reports and to listen -- to both supporters and "your opposition"?

Elected leaders represent all sides. And all sides ought to be heard.

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