The Disgruntled Dylanologist

All the truth in the world adds up to one big lie.

‘Everything’s Broken’ in Healthcare: A long, hot summer ahead for US lawmakers

Broken hands on broken ploughs,

Broken treaties, broken vows,
Broken pipes, broken tools,

People bending broken rules.

Broken promises, corrupt politicians, racial injustice, social inequality— when it comes to the issues that have shaped America’s cultural conscience, there’s little he hasn’t commented on. Yet in the last five decades, Bob Dylan has yet to write a song about one issue that touches every American regardless of race, creed and color: healthcare.

The debate over healthcare has become the most heated and incendiary issue in recent political memory. And if last week is any indication, it’s going to be long, hot summer for US lawmakers, indeed.

Of course being jeered at, sneered at, even flat out shouted at is hardly new to members of Congress. But getting your hand slapped by a posturing colleague on C-Span in the wee hours of the night when no one’s watching is one thing. Getting an earful from an irate constituent—someone you actually have to listen to—is entirely different. And that’s precisely how members of the House and Senate are spending their summer vacation:

  • Close to 1,500 people came to the Tampa suburb of Ybor City last week hoping to hear Democratic State Rep. Betty Reed and U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor state their positions on healthcare. The event quickly regressed into a near riot.
  • In Michigan, a ‘town hall’ meeting hosted by Democratic Rep. John Dingell underwent a similar metamorphosis when the forum turned into a shouting match as supporters and detractors of the pending healthcare reform bill butted heads and traded verbal barbs.
  • In Mehlville, Mo., a gathering organized by Democratic Rep. Russ Carnahan and billed as a meeting on aging turned violent when St. Louis police arrested six people, some on assault charges.

Political protest has a long and hallowed place in our country’s history. And while the furor ignited by the current debate over healthcare hardly seems on par with Civil Rights, the Vietnam War or the other issues that defined Dylan’s generation, how we take care of our sick and elderly is no less important, and will have no less impact on the future of our nation.

Chances are, however, Bob won’t be turning up at any of the healthcare town hall meetings singing “We Shall Overcome,” “Blowin’ in the Wind,” or “The Times They are A-Changin’” to demonstrate his allegiance for a populous that is rapidly agin’.

Instead, we’ll have to rely on the media to stir up the fervor and infuse the emotional resonance into the debate. And if you’ve been watching the nightly news over the last few days, you know they already have.

According to reports, many of the protesters have said that they’ve been urged to take action by conservative activist groups like the Tradition Values Coalition (TVC), a Washington-based conservative group who is letting citizens know when and where their US senators and representatives will be holding town hall meetings, and encouraging ‘concerned’ citizens to attend.

In response to charges that the TVC is taking advantage of those old, gray and in the way, Andrea Lafferty, the organization’s executive director, defends the promotion of the events as an opportunity for Americans to voice their genuine concerns.

“It’s summer,” Lafferty maintains. “Most kids haven’t returned to school yet, and this will be a valuable civics lesson for your children, your grandchildren, friends, and family.”

It’s ironic that the White House has shown such disdain for the demonstrations against those Democratic legislators who have suffered the slings and arrows of discontent. After all, the fact that Obama is even in the White House is largely due to his ability to mobilize over 13 million disenfranchised voters between the ages of 18 and 35 using many of the same techniques now being employed by ‘agitators.’ Funny how the fundamental, underlying right of American to assemble and speak freely becomes such a travesty when the tables are turned.

But whether the demonstrations are manufactured or an organic, grassroots reaction to the point that voters have to shout to be heard, both the White House and the media have missed the point of the protests entirely.

The issue here isn’t whether these demonstrations have been organized by special interest groups, concocted by conservative political action committees or orchestrated the pharmaceutical companies (let’s be honest— chances are all have likely played a hand in the disturbances). The issue is that the disturbance of the status quo has done exactly what it’s supposed to do. It’s pissed people off.

The issue of reconfiguring healthcare has struck a nerve in the American electorate. And that nerve is only going to become more inflamed as the debate drags on. The fact that we are dealing with an issue that is far too complex for most lawmakers, much less a majority of Americans to understand, only compounds the problem.

Certainly, no one—not Republicans, not Democrats, not the media—is condoning violence or advocating the use icons that conjure up images of hate and intolerance, though these techniques have been used at more than a few gatherings. But until the media starts doing their job and really “keeps them honest” as one cable outlet so piously professes on a nightly basis, the most reliable source in the healthcare debate will remain the public, no matter how unruly they become.

There’s no question healthcare is broken in this country. And while the town hall meetings might not be the best place to have a measured, reasonable discussion on how to fix this fractured and failing system, the politicians should be thankful that their kangaroo courtship of the voters has brought their constituents out in droves.

Now they’ll be able to see firsthand how truly out of touch they’ve become…

Broken dishes, broken parts,
Streets are filled with broken hearts.

Broken words never meant to be spoken,

Everything is broken.


August 9, 2009 Posted by | Disgruntled, Dylanologist | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Days of ‘49”: Walter Cronkite, Bob Dylan and the death of network news

My comrades they all loved me well, a jolly saucy crew
A few hard cases I will recall though they all were brave and true
Whatever the pitch they never would flinch, they never would fret or whine;
Like good old bricks they stood the kicks in the days of ‘49

Believe it or not, there once was a time when “the most trusted name in news” was more than just a pithy slogan: a time before the barrage of 24-hour news channels, a time before the Internet, a time before the incessant, perpetual stream of information that now runs across our television sets, computer screens, and iPhones like an endless, mind-numbing loop.

It was a time when the most trusted name in news wasn’t a name at all— it was man. And with the passing of Walter Cronkite on July 17th at the age of 92, we were reminded of that time.

Known for his metered, straightforward delivery, and his iconic sign-off line, “That’s the way it is,” Walter Cronkite wasn’t just the anchor of the nation’s most-watched news program. He was our Rock of Gibraltar at a time when America was awash in a sea of instability, unrest and turbulence.

The Kennedy assassination, the Apollo moon landing, Watergate, Civil Rights, the war in Vietnam. Cronkite covered them all, and did so with an accuracy and authority that hearkened back to a time when those who referred to themselves as ‘reporters’ actually engaged in the business of reporting.

Yet for all his attributes, all the qualities that made him the consummate newsman, Walter Cronkite was not without his frailties.

He cried when he read the news John Kennedy had died at the hand of an assassin’s bullet. He allowed his boyish sense of awe to spill over as he watched Neil Armstrong take that one small step for man, that one giant leap for mankind. And he tempered his disgust when he reported on a president who had put his own political aspirations ahead of a nation’s moral authority.

Walter Cronkite may not have invented TV journalism, but by the time he relinquished the reins of the CBS Evening News in 1981, he had most certainly become the epitome of it.

He also sowed the seeds of its demise.

For two decades, Cronkite had reported without bias or bravado on America’s slow and slippery descent into a civil war in far off and distant land. But when the most trusted man in America referred to Vietnam in a 1968 as a “bloody and endless quagmire that is costing both American and Vietnamese lives,” he effectively ended the era of the impartial, impervious reporter.

So did Cronkite destroy network news? Far from it. In fact, he set the bar by which network news will forever be measured. But he was held in such high esteem, his opinion so valued, that when he broke from the reporter’s credo of sticking to ‘just the facts’ by opining on Lyndon Johnson’s policy in Vietnam, he paved the way for the evening news’ transition from a factual clearinghouse into a bully pulpit.

Of course, political punditry is hardly new. Just as trusted newsmen like Cronkite reported on the stories of the day, traveling troubadours like Pete Seeger, Joan Baez and Bob Dylan made names for themselves by crafting songs that painted a stark portrait of injustice, inequity and intolerance in a way that often elevated point of view over matter-of-fact.

But can Bill O’Reilly, Ann Coulter, Arianna Huffington, Sean Hannity, Alan Colmes or the myriad of other pundits whose sole reason for existence is to pontificate and polarize really be laid at the feet of Walter Cronkite? Of course not.

But in a time when Jon Stewart can be voted the “most trusted newscaster” by 44% of Americans, beating out real newscasters Brian Williams of NBC (29%), ABC’s Charles Gibson (19%), and CBS’ Katie Couric (7%), it’s evident the pundits haven’t merely found a place alongside news—they’ve replaced it altogether.

Just as there is power in the facts, there is power in opinion. But for all he brought to network news, the moment Cronkite allowed the two to become intertwined, he unwittingly brought an end to the ‘golden era’ of TV journalism that he had come to define…

In the days of old, in the days of gold;
How oft’ times I repine for the days of old;
When we dug up the gold, in the days of ‘49.

August 2, 2009 Posted by | Disgruntled, Dylanologist | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment