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Sunday, August 23, 2009



I will say to you basically what I said to Miranda, there is no reason to believe Tom or any of the other five panelists made the decision to screen questions. That decision was at least as likely to have been made by the events sponsors in the interest of getting the most legitimate and prevalent questions discussed in the limited time allotted. Perhaps you have information I am not privy to. Otherwise, your assertion that "Daschle was apparently afraid to engage in an unscripted discussion..." is nothing more than an unsupported assumption.


A.I.: Whoever made the decision, a public forum allowing only screened questions is not an unscripted discussion, or at least not one involving the public. Moreover, Daschle consented to participate under those rules. He might have insisted on open conversation, and surely his wishes would have been respected. My view that Senator Daschle was more comfortable with this arrangement is not an assumption, it is speculation based on the facts I mention here.

You may be right about the motive for the restriction. Whoever made the decision may have supposed that the public could not be trusted to uphold their side of an effective discussion. But this strikes me as naive. The obvious reason for the restriction was the fact that recent town hall discussions have been rather raucous and that defenders of Congressional reforms have been greeted with some discomforting challenges. I would have thought that this raucous behavior would have hurt the critics of reform, but apparently that has not been the case. I suspect that this is because the loud folks who have been showing up are voicing concerns and, to be fair, anxieties, that a lot of less politically active folks share.

Still, there is a reason that forums and town hall meetings take place. It is good idea to have politicians expose themselves to ordinary voters, and have to answer their questions. If there answers aren't satisfactory, it might be a good idea for participants to notice that and press a point or two. Screened questions protect the politicians from this, and that was my point.

Suppose the tables were turned, and this was a Bush Administration official or Senator defending the invasion of Iraq. How would you have viewed screened questions? I know how such things were usually viewed by anti-war critics: as evasions, anti-democratic in procedure, and cowardly in motive.


Your final paragraph brought much into focus. Tom's critics are many, but the criticism often tends to be contradictory and/or misplaced.

The contradiction stems from those who criticize him as being a shill for both the administration and the health care/insurance industry--entities that are at least somewhat at odds over reform issues. Were he a mole covertly taking advantage of both sides, this contradiction might be logical. But what he is doing is public knowledge. So, he describes himself as a resource for both which probably is about as close to defining his role as one can get.

Criticism is misplaced when he is portrayed as a public official. He is neither part of the Administration nor a member of congress. There is no reason he should be held to the same standards of public access as one might apply to either. Nor was there reason to hold/subject anyone else on the Aberdeen panel to those standards.


A.I.: You are right that Senator Daschle is not a "public official." He is an unofficial adviser to the President on healthcare, and a one time resident of Aberdeen. If he wanted simply to advance public knowledge without engaging in actual conversation with the voters, he could have written an op-ed in the American News. Participating on a panel where the questions were screened was an obvious sign of an unwillingness to engage directly with the folks who show up. This is no crime, and Daschle had every right to make that decision. I just think it obviously says something about his confidence in the case for healthcare reform right now. It undermined much of the good that he might have done by appearing here. But again, undermining himself is what the Senator has become good at.


You've gone back to your original unsupported premise that Daschle made the decision to screen questions. Sure glad I wasn't one of the five other panel members. My ego isn't so very delicate, but I'm not sure it would relish being of no account to the extent you imply each of them were--and for that matter, AARP and SDDP.

You also imply he was a de facto emissary of the administration because he gives the President advice on health care issues. He also advises the much-maligned-by-the-left United Health. Would not he as well be their emissary too?

Tom is recognized as someone with expertise on health care issue. He agreed to be part of a panel which included members with views not in line with his own. He did not, so far as I have heard, try to dominate the forum. He simply accepted an invitation to participate in a forum in Aberdeen--where he no doubt also visited his mother. My God, why can't it just be that simple?

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