Health-care reform activists, pro and con, find some common ground at Obama rally

President Barack Obama
REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
President Barack Obama speaks during a rally for his health insurance reform initiatives in Minneapolis on Saturday, Sept. 12.

Outside and inside Target Center on Saturday, activists of different political stripes occasionally managed to find a sliver of common ground on health-care reform.

Republican Doug Bass, holding up a handmade “How Many Trillions?” sign, listened patiently to former FBI agent Coleen Rowley as they stood on a corner across from Target Center before the Obama rally began.

“I’m trying to get common ground, so I told him no one likes debt,” said Rowley, a former congressional candidate who hoisted a handmade “healthcare not warfare” sign. And Bass, who agrees that the deficit is a “looming disaster,” said later, “She was right when she said that not all parties have a monopoly on virtue. … I also think the Republicans need to find a spine.”

Bass, a St. Paul resident, didn’t realize who Rowley was until MinnPost explained she was the local FBI agent who tried to warn Washington before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that Zacarias Moussaoui was taking commercial flight lessons in Minnesota. Clearly impressed, he walked over to talk with her some more.

A mostly pro-Obama crowd
And so it went Saturday as thousands of folks — mostly pro-Obama people — lined up for a chance to hear the president articulate his vision for health-care reform and rally the faithful.

With the exception of a few Minnesota-centric comments about Mayo Clinic and its record of high-quality care for lower costs, we did not hear anything different from his address to Congress on Wednesday night. (See his prepared remarks here and video below.) The crowd did not seem to care. They roared their approval with chants of “O-BAM-A, O-BAM-A” and “Yes, we can; yes, we can.”

And if any naysayers got out of line, they were quickly drowned out with “O-BAM-A, O-BAM-A.”  

Another piece of common ground: No one was allowed to take their signs into the arena, not even the pro-Obama people. But if you looked above the first tier of seating, you could see one message running the circumference of the arena in white and blue: “Stable & Secure Health Care.”

Volunteer Lucy Buckner-Watson, who was a Minnesota Obama delegate to the Democratic National Convention in Denver last year, said she heard what she needed from the president. “I’m ready. I’m fired up,” she said, answering Obama’s repeated questions to the crowd: “Are you ready? Are you fired up?”

Beyond the inspiration to keep working for reform, she said, “The most meaningful fact is that he explained, No. 1, the government is not taking over health care, and No. 2, it’s not going to take one penny to put us further in debt.”

Over-the-fence discussions fruitful
In recent weeks, Buckner-Watson has gathered 200 signatures on a pro-Obama-reform petition for Organizing for America, which means she has knocked on the doors of a lot of her Republican neighbors in Inver Grove Heights. She managed to get her next-door neighbor to sign the petition for universal health care. How? Numerous back-and-forth discussions over the fence about equality and human rights.

“He’ll have a Pig’s Eye beer in one hand and a cigarette in another, and I bring that (the cigarette) up, too,” she said. “He agreed that health care should be available to everybody, but he wouldn’t give in on immigrants, who he called aliens and foreigners. I said, ‘Don’t call them aliens — they’re not from outer space.’ And he says, ‘they sure act like it.’ ”

That neighbor’s a tough customer. But in talking with other conservative Republicans, she’s found success “when you can bring it home” to them. In her case, it’s a matter of telling the story of her daughter, who graduated from college, got a job and then lost it along with her health insurance. “I was so scared when my daughter said she got a lump in her breast and that she had had it for four months. I asked her why she didn’t tell us sooner and she said, ‘Mama, I knew you didn’t have the money.’ ”

$3,800 and a lot of worry
Thankfully, the biopsy showed the lump was benign but it cost the family $3,800 and countless hours of worry. Anyone can find themselves in similar circumstances when their 20-something children have graduated and can’t find a job or health insurance, she said. “Then, they can relate.”

While guarding a media riser in the Target Center, Buckner-Watson also tried to sway a vendor selling coffee concoctions. Dave Warrington, who went on MinnesotaCare during two years of unemployment, is skeptical of government involvement.

Yes, people of different political persuasions can find common ground for universal health care when it comes to their kids. But the ground gets shaky on how to get there.

Steve Jelinek of Minnetonka, one of the pickets outside Target Center, voted for Sarah Palin. He gets private insurance through his wife’s employer and doesn’t think the government should control health care. “Parents should take out a policy for their children as soon as they know they’re expecting,” he said.

“In the event the child falls on hard times and loses a job, then the taxpayer should assist them,” Jelinek said, explaining his idea for reform. Until then, the insurance company is collecting premiums in good years and bad years.

Concerned about daughters
Bill and Marilyn Knudsen of Eden Prairie, who landed seats in the first row of the first tier, are worried about their teenage twin daughters, one of whom has a thyroid condition that is considered a preexisting condition and currently subject to exclusion by insurers.

“Once she has to get off my husband’s employer-based insurance, will she be insurable?” Marilyn Knudsen said in explaining their support for a public option. Before Obama’s arrival, she said she expected him to repeat what he said to Congress. What did she want to hear? “I need to be reassured that the public option is not getting lost in the shuffle. I think the president gets it, and he’s been trying to pacify the corporations more than what the people’s needs are.”

Obama seemed to know what she needed to hear.

“I have also said that one of the options in the insurance exchange should be a public insurance option,” he told the crowd. “Let me be clear — it would only be an option. No one would be forced to choose it, and no one with insurance would be affected by it,” Obama said. “What it would do is provide more choice and more competition. It would keep pressure on private insurers to keep their policies affordable and treat their customers better, the same way public colleges and universities provide additional choice and competition to students without in any way inhibiting private colleges and universities.”

‘We gotta do something’
After the president ticked off a series of statistics such as 6 million Americans lost their health insurance in the last year, a voice from the audience shouted, “We gotta do something.”

Obama didn’t miss a beat. “We gotta do something … because it [losing health insurance] can happen to anyone.”

Unlike the congressional address, Obama wrapped up his speech here with a humorous story about a perky Greenwood, S.C., councilwoman who nearly stole the show when he campaigned there last year. Twenty people showed up on a rainy day. As he spoke, he heard a voice from behind proclaiming “Fired up!”

“I almost jumped out of my shoes,” Obama recalled. Then he would hear, “Fired up. Ready to go.”     

“I realized I was being upstaged by this woman,” he said to laughs from the crowd. “But after a minute or two, I was feeling fired up. I’m feeling like I’m ready to go.”

One last message to Minnesota from the president: “Are you fired up? Ready to go? Let’s go get this done, everybody.”

If the ensuing deafening roars of “Yes, we can” and “O-BAM-A” are any indication, the Minnesota faithful are ready.

Casey Selix is a MinnPost news editor and reporter who writes about health care and other issues. She can be reached at cselix [at]

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Comments (15)

  1. Submitted by Ed Stych on 09/12/2009 - 08:21 pm.

    Rah-rah-rah! Glad the Obama supporters got a pep talk today. Looks like the other side is just as energized, if not more so, based on the rally in D.C. today. I assume MinnPost’s D.C. reporter will have a story from there, giving us a Minnesota angle. (???)

    The common ground, Casey, is that we all agree that insurance and health care should be available to all American citizens. It’s a matter of how we get there. The liberals’ plan can’t get us there without increasing costs, increasing debt and lowering the quality of care. That is not acceptable to the vast majority of us who already have and pay for health insurance.

    We’re bored with all the emotional health-care stories. We’ll have just as many stories under ObamaCare. Drop the emotion and find a way to accomplish the goal without increasing my taxes, without increasing the country’s debt, and without harming health care. There are plenty of ideas out there. Stop ignoring them. Start thinking outside of the typical liberal box.

  2. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 09/12/2009 - 09:10 pm.

    Ed just proves what so many of us already know, the Rebs have a serious problem with compassion. They are not moved at all by the suffering and struggles of those without adequate health care. They are just sick of hearing about them.

    The difference between the Obama supporters and those who were marching in Washington is that the Obama supporters are supporting badly needed health care reforms based on provable facts, figures and statistics and reasonable estimates of future costs and savings.

    The folks marching in Washington are following the tormented ravings of Becky, whose either one of the greatest hucksters and snake oil salesmen of all time or an undiagnosed paranoid schizophrenic.

    The thing all you followers of Becky need to ask yourselves is, are you being taken in by him, or are you just as crazy as he is?

  3. Submitted by Scott Sperry on 09/12/2009 - 09:22 pm.

    Not sure where Ms Rowley got those number since even Obama just refers to the $1.4 trillion debt (780 billion from the stimulus). Is she not concerned about the debt the CBO indicates will reach several trillion under Obamacare. Or the debt that Obama has already racked up which is up to around $2 trillion. Let’s have Obama provide specifics rather than generalities so everyone knows where the $$ will come from…specifically where the savings will be.

  4. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 09/12/2009 - 09:31 pm.

    Leading conservative economist Bruce Bartlett writes that the Obama-hating town-hall mobs have it wrong—the person they should be angry with left the White House seven months ago.

    “Where is the evidence that everything would be better if Republicans were in charge? Does anyone believe the economy would be growing faster or that unemployment would be lower today if John McCain had won the election? I know of no economist who holds that view. The economy is like an ocean liner that turns only very slowly. The gross domestic product and the level of employment would be pretty much the same today under any conceivable set of policies enacted since Barack Obama’s inauguration.”

    “I think conservative anger is misplaced. To a large extent, Obama is only cleaning up messes created by Bush. This is not to say Obama hasn’t made mistakes himself, but even they can be blamed on Bush insofar as Bush’s incompetence led to the election of a Democrat. If he had done half as good a job as most Republicans have talked themselves into believing he did, McCain would have won easily.”

    Conservatives delude themselves that the Bush tax cuts worked and that the best medicine for America’s economic woes is more tax cuts; at a minimum, any tax increase would be economic poison. They forget that Ronald Reagan worked hard to pass one of the largest tax increases in American history in September 1982, the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act, even though the nation was still in a recession that didn’t end until November of that year.”

    “According to the CBO, federal taxes will amount to just 15.5 percent of GDP this year. That’s 2.2 percent of GDP less than last year, 3.3 percent less than in 2007, and 1.8 percent less than the lowest percentage recorded during the Reagan years. If conservatives really believe their own rhetoric, they should be congratulating Obama for being one of the greatest tax cutters in history.”

    “In my opinion, conservative activists, who seem to believe that the louder they shout the more correct their beliefs must be, are less angry about Obama’s policies than they are about having lost the White House in 2008. They are primarily Republican Party hacks trying to overturn the election results, not representatives of a true grassroots revolt against liberal policies. If that were the case they would have been out demonstrating against the Medicare drug benefit, the Sarbanes-Oxley bill, and all the pork-barrel spending that Bush refused to veto.”

    “Until conservatives once again hold Republicans to the same standard they hold Democrats, they will have no credibility and deserve no respect. They can start building some by admitting to themselves that Bush caused many of the problems they are protesting.”

    [Bruce Bartlett was one of the original supply-siders, helping draft the Kemp-Roth tax bill in the 1970s. In the 1980s and 1990s, he was a leading Republican economist. He now considers himself to be a political independent.]

    I feel so cheap for the snip and paste, but Bartlett does make some articulate points regarding the opposition party and the “grassroots protesters”.

  5. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 09/13/2009 - 06:46 am.

    It should be enough that health care is the morally right thing to do, but let’s forget about that, and appeal to the fact, that it is the fiscally responsible thing to reform health care. Some facts:

    The government run VA recently polled much better than the private sector in patient satisfaction. The VFW, American Legion, and Disabled American Vets have all said the VA is better than the private market. Why would these Vet advocate groups lie?

    Medicare runs on 5% overhead compared to 20-30% for the private market. Seniors are extremely satisfied with this government run health care. They would scream bloody murder if you got rid of government run heath care.

    Government run Tricare insurance for department of defense families is highly, highly rated.

    Right now, medicare is financially hurting because they are subsidizing private profits by taking the least profitable clients. Basically, your tax dollars are being used to protect private profit. If medicate clients were more spread out, they wouldn’t be in this mess. If private insurance had to take the sick and elderly, they would never profit. Public dollars should not ensure private profit.

    In basic capitalism, the profit motive encourages companies to provide better products or services so they can make more money. In bizarro insurance company capitalism, they make more money by providing less service and a worse product. No conservative has ever been able to explain how you can get past the simple fact that insurance companies are always going to be encouraged to increase profit by denying costly benefits.

    These ideas that government cannot do anything right are demonstrably false and government can also do it cheaper.

  6. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 09/13/2009 - 10:29 am.

    While they are generally dead wrong about whom the villains are, the interesting things about many of those that gathered in Washington is that much of what they fear is true.

    The first fear that they are right about is the decline of the United States. Between complete and utter fiscal mismanagement and a flattening world, it is inconceivable that we will maintain the level of world dominance necessary to support our disproportionate hunger for its resources. While those gathered seem to believe that as Americans, we are somehow special and forever entitled to the lion’s share of the worlds resources, the rest of the world doesn’t share that view and is effectively asserting their claims to those same resources, and unlike us, many of them have savings accounts (frequently US Treasuries).

    Second, they are right to believe that their government has horribly served them. A properly functioning government would not have allowed the circumstances that were the preconditions for the economic meltdown we are experiencing. The government would not have accepted the almost unfathomable levels of leverage that were built into the system … including mortgage and debt backed securities that were levered at 30 or 40 to 1 and which were destined to become worthless if the value of the underlying asset pool declined by a paltry 2 or 3%. They would not have allowed AAA bond ratings on those same bonds. They would not have encouraged no-doc loans and exotic mortgages that were certain to result in foreclosure if property values didn’t continue their seemingly inexorable rise. And they would certainly not have allowed an unregulated market in credit default swaps that left us with the useless keys to the AIG kingdom and a host of other liabilities that we will probably never fully account for.

    Third, they are right to fear the governments intrusion into our personal lives … from the economic position that the government now occupies thanks to the steps they felt compelled to take to prevent an economic collapse (and to bail out those that committed the financial misdeeds outlined above) … to the intrusive nature on personal issues (Terry Schaivo and Scientific Creationism in school texts come to my quasi-liberal mind), to the erosion of privacy and the moral high-ground camouflaged as anti-terror measures.

    Many gathered on the mall yesterday find themselves to be the most directly impacted by these issues. While sweeping generalizations are always dangerous, on the surface the gatherers appear to be undereducated, non-critical thinkers that do not tend to be in the upper socio-economic strata, and thus are most immediately impacted by a deterioration of the economy and other government failings.
    The problem is that they have been duped about who the real culprits are.

    Those talk show hosts and politicians that are building and exploiting these people’s fears are the same people that were clapping like trained seals when these problems were developing. They have miscast history to such a degree that it is almost as if “conservatives” were not in complete control of government from 2001 through 2007 when many of these issues were born. They have so little decency that they will portray a counseling provision that they had lauded as recently as two months ago as a “death panel” today. They have no problem railing against the health care system last year and extolling its virtues as the “best health care in the world” today. They have no problem pretending that they believe that Obama wasn’t lawfully elected and that it is he and “liberals” that are at the root of all of these problems. While these willful liars pad their bank accounts with lobbyist largess and advertising dollars, those that they are duping are led to believe that they are on the same side. Shame on them.

    So, while it may be easy to dismiss gatherers on the mall as loons, don’t dismiss all of their fears, for many are real.

  7. Submitted by Tim Nelson on 09/13/2009 - 10:53 am.

    Other countries used wage and price controls (government regulation) to cut health care costs. Our problem is twofold because not everyone is already covered. Any plan to cover everybody will fail, but any plan to regulate profits, and then cover everybody will succeed.

    Do people really believe that plans to cover everybody were the one dimensional panacea in these countries?

    How sad.

  8. Submitted by Beryl John-Knudson on 09/13/2009 - 12:36 pm.

    “Remembering a place where once there was a small but perfect fire…” Thomas McGrath
    My eyes possibly deceived me, but for one moment I thought I saw Paul Wellstone, fist classically extended, moving the crowd…”All fired up and ready to go!”…

    Everyone has a story of friend or family member caught up, shortchanged by the horrors of our present unaffordable healthcare system.

    Maybe, if we can reach that stage when faces we acknowledge are strangers to us, and we still recognize their right to affordable healthcare, within our present, unacceptable system…then we will have affirmed the credibility of our democratic state where health needs of the “I” we know are more or less, as significant as the “other” we have never and may never meet.

  9. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 09/13/2009 - 07:11 pm.

    Huh. What happened to the people that have been showing up all summer to instruct their Democrat neighbors and legislators on the limits to government intervention into our lives?

    Oh, yeah….they were in Washington bringing the message personally.

    “Tens of thousands of people marched through Washington Saturday to protest President Obama’s proposed health care plans. The rowdy pilgrimage capped a series of conservative “Tea Party” rallies across the country.”

    While P-BO was “firing up” 17,000 clueless sycophants, somewhere between 70,000-100,000 people (depending on who’s numbers you want to believe) from all over the country took the time to travel to Washington DC to “just say no” to Socialist takeovers.

  10. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 09/13/2009 - 10:31 pm.

    304,059,724 US population
    169 million registered voters
    86 million democrat
    55 million republican
    28 million “others”
    100,000 protesters

    Pretty impressive numbers there Thomas….

    This was not a small rally. It was also not, in comparison with something like the 2006 pro-immigration protests, a particularly large rally. It was a business-as-usual sort of rally. Mock the protesters at your peril: business as usual suddenly isn’t so good for Democrats these days, and the sentiments of the 70,000 people who marched on Washington surely mirror those of millions more sitting at home

  11. Submitted by Glenn Mesaros on 09/14/2009 - 01:20 pm.

    NBC Nightly News in DC broadcast “our reporters there say hundreds of thousands”. The British press reported one million. Anyone who looks at the pictures can easily assume one half million,i.e. 500,000. All signs were hand made; all Obama rallies have SEIU printed signs that say the same thing.

    Obama has lost Ohio for the Democrats. He got 4000 people on Labor Day in Cincinnati; the Tea Party got 18,000. Even John Boehner said “I have never seen anything like this.”

    The Democratic Party will get crushed in NJ and Virginia on Nov. 3, 2009. American citizens will vote for Joe Wilson over any Democrat outside of Minnesota.

  12. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 09/14/2009 - 03:57 pm.

    Scott Sperry (#4) Re: Bush deficits.

    Citizens for Tax Justice ( reports that the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy “cost almost $2.5 trillion over the decade after they were first enacted (2001-2010). Preliminary estimates from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office show that the House Democrats’ health care reform legislation is projected to cost $1 trillion over the decade after it would be enacted.”

    A few years ago, CTJ reported that half the budget deficit each year during the Bush administration was due to the revenue lost by giving those tax breaks to America’s highest earners. Much of the rest came from the war-based-on-lies in Iraq and the second war in Afghanistan (and, no doubt, the militarization of every diplomatic post in every country around the world).

    Tim Nelson (#9) Re: other countries’ price controls. The Swiss system is very much like the plan(s) being considered in Washington, except that it includes no public option. Private insurance is mandated and help provided for those who cannot afford it. The difference between the Swiss plan and the U.S. proposals is that the Swiss government requires all insurers to be non-profit. It also defines the benefit package to be covered and limits the premiums insurers are allowed to collect. The result is that the Swiss spend 40 percent less per capita than we do while achieving better outcomes.

    (But single payer is still the best: We could save $400 billion per year and REDUCE any annual deficit and the national debt.)

  13. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 09/14/2009 - 09:28 pm.

    Mr. Mesaros, Please come in for a landing you could get hurt flying without a license.
    Here’s the facts son….

    snip//Sunday, someone told a real whopper. ABC News, citing the DC fire department, reported that between 60,000 and 70,000 people had attended the tea party rally at the Capitol. By the time this figure reached Michelle Malkin, however, it had been blown up to 2,000,000. There is a big difference, obviously, between 70,000 and 2,000,000. That’s not a twofold or threefold exaggeration — it’s roughly a thirtyfold exaggeration.

    The way this false estimate came into being is relatively simple: Matt Kibbe, the president of FreedomWorks, lied, claiming that ABC News had reported numbers of between 1.0 and 1.5 million when they never did anything of the sort. A few tweets later, the numbers had been exaggerated still further to 2 million. Kibbe wasn’t “in error”, as Malkin gently puts it. He lied. He did the equivalent of telling people that his wanker is 53 inches long.

    Malkin, who to her credit later corrected the error, frets that it might be used to by liberals to “discredit the undeniably massive turnout”. She’s right to be worried — it absolutely will be used that way. If you don’t want to be discredited, then don’t, as Kibbe did, tell a ridiculous (and easily disprovable) lie.// snip

    Glen, the next time that you quote the Lyndon Larouche website feel free to give them credit……

  14. Submitted by Tim Nelson on 09/15/2009 - 09:53 am.

    Quite the contrary Bernice, the Swiss system is better than single payer, and any wage and price control is an improvement.

    We call these plans single payer, or universal coverage, because we want to describe a system without the wage and price controls that other countries have. Kinda like a skier without skies.

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