Healthcare Reform Town Halls

>> Tuesday, August 18, 2009

There's an interesting thing happening on the Main Streets of America. People are voicing their opinions for the first time about something vitally important to them --- healthcare. It's not that any of the debate is new, that's for sure. It's just that for the first time, people feel like they are being asked for their opinions and they feel like maybe, just maybe, someone is listening.

Healthcare Reform Town Halls.

You've seen the media coverage. You've heard about the screaming and the drama. What you may not realize is that we are witnessing people coming together to try to change a system that desperately needs changing. And that's a good thing, Martha.

Ned Russell, our Director of Client Services, weighs in the topic.

Hope this finds you well -- Jim.

Take it away, Ned:

Iconography is a funny thing. It allows us to quickly capture in an image the essence of a thought, or sometimes an event or place in time, without getting too deep into the details.

The media is great at getting on to iconic images to telegraph the news story of the moment. Captain Scully and his USAir crew helping passengers disembark on the Hudson, Michael Jackson’s last rehearsal, Sarah Palin bidding farewell in Fairbanks, the Obama family puppy. Right now the iconic-image-du-jour is the Town Hall meeting.

This one’s a little different.

First, the images we’ve been seeing in the past couple of weeks are not the Town Hall meetings we recall from Norman Rockwell paintings or the forums of recent Presidential elections. These are ruckus affairs, sort of Marx Brothers ‘Duck Soup’ meets Jerry Springer. Red faces, shrill voices preaching of failure, woe and despair.

The New York Times reported yesterday that organizations on both sides of the healthcare debate are now spending $1 million a week trying to sway public opinion to their side. And despite the YouTube moments where one or two screamers get to confront a politician, most of these Town Hall meetings are reported to be quite constructive gatherings.

So the question is why has healthcare now struck such a nerve? I personally don’t recall Town Hall gatherings during Clinton’s attempted reform in the 90’s. And despite the age of YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook, these conversations are happening the old fashioned way: in person!

Although 4 out of 5 Americans have health insurance, we are now witnessing a debate that is in many ways like the Civil Rights cause back in the day. Is it that our own health and wellness is inextricably linked to our personal freedom, which we consider to be the founding principle and great purpose of our beloved country?

Is it that what we’re seeing an expression of concerned Americans who in debating how they and their loved ones will be cared for are upending the image of the passive, uninterested American and taking an active role in their own health and well-being?

Time will tell. But you can be certain that the importance consumers attach to their own health and wellness is not going to recede any time soon, and that the media’s iconography of how this debate unfolds in these Town Halls will continue to tell part of this story. Stay tuned.

- Ned Russell, Director of Client Services at Saatchi & Saatchi Wellness


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