At Jesse Jackson Jr.'s Town Hall

by Harold Pollack | August 19, 2009

This evening I was sitting in a packed church at 113th and Halsted in the Chicago southland listening to Representative Jesse Jackson, Jr. present an impassioned populist defense of the United States Post office.

Reverend Jackson and I were talking this morning about health insurance reform. He said ‘“Jesse, sum up this public option thing for me.’ I heard the President give an analysis that I think appropriate: Federal Express, UPS, DHL, the private option. The public option: email, the post office. If you want to pay your bill, sending it overnight for $30, choose the private option. But if you want to mail your mail like most of us do, WITH A STAMP (applause and laughter) use the public option…. The post office offers competitive overnight mail options. And those of us who are not interested in overnight mail can go the slow route, 2-3 days. That’s just fine for me. The post office is universal. It reaches the rural areas. It reaches the urban areas. It reaches where DHL, and UPS, and Fedex will not go. And so in the barrios and the ghettos and the trailor parks of our nation, for the uninsured in our nation, in order for us to save our health care system, we need a legitimate, real public option! (Cheering and applause.)

Yes, this was part of Jackson’s Power Point presentation.

The evening began with two cancer patients describing their struggles to keep their insurance. A doctor and a nurse described their efforts to care for uninsured patients. We’ve heard a lot about how conservative activists have been taking over the town halls. Not at the Sheldon Heights Church of Christ. There was not a single protester in sight. Maybe they were afraid to come. They needn’t have worried, much. Everything was very civil. They would not have found much sympathy here. Whatever political difficulties President Obama might have elsewhere, he’s not having them here. Whatever doubts moderate and conservative white America is having about health reform, the only doubts raised tonight concerned whether the President has yielded too much.

Representative Jackson’s district includes more people than live in Wyoming or North Dakota. It also includes hundreds of thousands of impoverished constituents. Jackson noted that the House Bill would raise taxes on the top 1.2 percent of Americans. “Last I checked…” he said to building laughter, "none of that 1.2 percent lives in the Second District.” Like other politicians, Jackson talked about uninsured. Only he spoke in a way that allowed for the likelihood that some of his 116,000 uninsured constituents might actually be present.

Much of the evening was spent trumpeting the public option and noting the importance of insurance market reform. Jackson mentioned every major legislative provision, save one: the individual mandate. Even in the Chicago southland, there are limits to what politicians can safely convey.

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