Steve Mullen: Squeaky wheels — or worst of the cart?

August 12, 2009 10:49:00 AM

Steve Mullen - [email protected]


One thing can be said about the health care debate: Watching it makes me ill. 


While I''ve tried to read up, I''m no expert. Another disclaimer: I''m a middle-of-the-road guy as far as politics are concerned -- I tend to like things that politicians in each party say from time to time. I imagine the majority of people are like me; not caught up in the fringe on either left or right. If the Red Sox are on TV, I''ll watch; I''ll watch the Yankees too. Rivalries aside, it''s all baseball. 


We middle-roaders are a level-headed bunch. We don''t tend to shout, or shove.  


We''re not the squeaky wheels. But there are plenty of squeaky wheels out there, and they are dominating the discussion. They''re getting all the grease. 




Bad form 


Reforming health care is a huge, very personal, very scary thing for lots of people, myself included. And it is being proposed during a time of extreme personal uncertainty for many of us, if not most of us. Is my job safe? Can I pay my mortgage/rent next month? And, if I do lose my job, what will I do about health insurance? 


It was right of Congress to put the brakes on things, and take time to explain to us what it''s all about. 


But that hasn''t been the focus, at least not so far. Turn on the TV, and you see angry people shouting, holding up signs, shoving each other, shouting down congressmen with chants of "tyranny!" 


One person was spotted outside an event with the president wearing a sidearm. Are people going to bring weapons to meetings about health care?  


Another person defaced a sign at a Democratic congressman''s office with a swastika.  


No mind. This is free speech. Guns? So what -- we''re exercising the Second Amendment, right?  


It''s still bad form. 




''Nazis'' among us 


As a middle-of-the-road person, I accept that the president is an American citizen. I consider him the leader of a democracy, and would bet lunch we will still be a democracy when he leaves office. I don''t think he is a socialist, or a communist, or a "communist McCarthyist," or a fascist. The president has been labeled all of these things, in a steady drumbeat, from the time it became clear he had a chance to win the presidency. Several days ago, during a church meeting, a Tupelo preacher called Obama''s form of government "messianic stateism," a label that deserves points for creativity.  


That''s all too soft, though. Some folks are just coming right out and labeling Obama and the Democrats Nazis. Straight-up Nazis, ready to shuffle the elderly off to death camps.  


Of course, he isn''t the first non-Nazi president to be labeled such. 


Rewind a few years. Remember Cindy Sheehan? She did most of the squeaking during the Bush administration. And squeak she did. Is it wrong to call her fringe? Amid calls to impeach the president, she ran against Nancy Pelosi for being too conservative, at least on the war. For all the outrage over Obama and Democrats being labeled Nazis, Sheehan and the far left did the same.  


That''s just where we are -- each side calling the other Nazis.  


It''s bad form to liken the president to Hitler, as Rush Limbaugh and Cindy Sheehan do. It''s bad form to shout down a U.S. senator, no matter what party he or she is in.  


Yes, it''s free speech, and it''s bad form.  




The worst wheel 


"The squeaky wheel gets the grease" -- I wondered about the origin of the phrase. Many sites on the Web attribute it to Benjamin Franklin. 


The phrase seems neutral, on its face. Is it right to squeak or not? You could read it either way. But right or wrong, you are appeased. 


I did a little more looking. It turns out that Benjamin Franklin''s original phrase was: "The worst wheel of the cart makes the most noise." Over time, it morphed into its current, more ambiguous form. 


Franklin''s original statement is a little less neutral. Being the "worst wheel of the cart" doesn''t appear to be something of which he approved. 


Would Franklin advocate vigorous debate? Surely. Shoving each other, or shouting for the express purpose of drowning out another point of view? Doubtful. 




Get to the facts 


Some may hope that all the squeaking about health care drowns out any substance -- whether you are Republican or Democrat or independent, whether you feel health care reform and the legislation being proposed is a good idea or not. All the squeaking makes it tough to get to the facts, and talk about them in an honest, civil way. Maybe those making the most noise have already formed an educated opinion. But the noise makes it tough for others to do the same. 


It also makes it nearly impossible to find this starting point: This legislation, like most, wrong-headed or not, was proposed to try and help people. We can either believe that, or believe it''s a scheme to do God knows what -- bankrupt the country on purpose I suppose.  


If some of it is a good idea, fine, let''s keep it and discard the rest. But let''s talk about it -- not about death camps and Nazis. That''s noise -- the squeaky wheel. 


I''m tired of paying for the grease. 


Steve Mullen is managing editor of The Dispatch. Reach him at [email protected]

Steve Mullen is Managing Editor of The Dispatch.