The Sestak Town Hall, held yesterday August 12 in Philadelphia, was a much better example of community debate than the freak show up the road in Lebanon.

Perhaps this was because reformers outnumbered the opponents by a huge percentage, or perhaps it was because the event was held in a church, or perhaps it was because Joe Sestak isn’t universally loathed like Arlen Specter is.

oh sure, there were some kooks outside. One guy in his fifties was screaming and yelling that the government can’t do anything right, but at the same time loves his Medicare. When someone tried to engage him in debate, the guy started yelling "you never served in the Army" and then proceeded to throughly demonstrate his ignorance of how social security worked. Another opponent, who we shall hear more from later, saw the line and flipped out yelling that health care reformers were "stacking the deck like you always do" and demanded that Broad Street Ministries "let americans in!!!"

in general though, the crowd was friendly, educated, and engaged in the process. Sestak’s staff was on hand and highly accessible, answering questions. Some people from GOP-nutball Pat Toomey’s campaign were on hand, video-taping everything.

To get to the point: after a brief introduction from the pastor, Sestak began taking questions. the candidate knew a LOT of people in the crowd, calling first on a LaRouche supporter who he recognized. she began a long rambling question that made no sense. i had seen her outside earlier passing around fliers with Obama decorated with a Hitler mustache. The LaRouche faction has apparently convinced itself that the House Bill includes provisions based on Hitler’s T4 eugenics program that will exterminate old people, and that Rahm’s brother Ezekiel will be responsible for killing the elderly. Sestak took pains to dispel this insane rumor.

Sestak brought up, again and again, that we are already paying for the uninsured, and at a rate much higher than we will if we have reform: $400/individsual, $1200/family. whenever the uninsured get sick or hurt and go to the ER, that overhead is passed onto insurers, who pass it onto us. Sestak said the House bill aims to end co-pays for preventive care, like checkups, mammograms, etc.

I think the most surreal exchange came from a frothing winger named Chris: this was the guy in line yelling about "letting americans in". He stepped up to the mic and immediately began screaming that sestak hadn’t read the bill, and that he (chris) had. Chris said that he liked his health insurance, that he pays for it out of his paycheck, and what was to stop his employer of 29,000 employees from saying "we’re cutting your insurance, you’re all on the public plan now." he was realyl angry, yellign and screaming, and several audience members called for him to calm down, to no avail.

that’s when sestak said "calm down everyone, i know this guy", and proceeded to explain how chris works for a car dealership in his district, and that while they disagree, they had traded cell phone numbers, they talk all the time, and they were both vets. That led to a brief back and forth between the two about Panama and Somalia. Sestak told Chris he had read the bill, held up the enormous document, and explained that while he hadn’t memorized it, the bill did not allow employers to drop their employee’s coverage. his health care aide (also present) would be happy to explain where it was in the legislation. Angry Chris strode angrily up the aisle, a big guy with a 1950s haircut, tattoos, and a military tee-shirt. he looked like his head was going to explode, as he walked up to the stage…

…and then extended his hand to sestak and in a very polite, calm, and friendly voice said "thank you for answering my question joe, and giving me some extra time with your aide. i really appreciate your service in the Navy and in congress. I think you’re totally wrong about this, but thanks for doing this. call me, ok?" I was right up front and heard the whole thing.

And except for one other person who just didn’t understand how health care would be paid for (no matter how many times Sestak mentioned a surcharge on the wealthiest), that was the extent of the disruption i saw.

One major highlight was when the Pastor mentioned how during the sausage-making process, all sorts of concessions must be made. he wanted to know wghat Sestak was unwilling to concede. Sestak said the bill must include a public option. Sestak also doesn’t think co-ops would work for the reasons that have been articulated here in previous posts. Also good news.

Unfortunately, sestak also said the model is probably going to look a lot like the Massachusetts Romneycare plan. i happen to have friends in MA: all of them hate Romneycare because it doesn’t work.

I was afraid of this.

I had to head home around 8:30 (i’d been there since 4:30), but I understand the event went on until 11:45 or so. all in all, a productive and constructive night.

Lebanon PA could take lessons from the uncivilized, unwashed masses they think live in Philadelphia. Even the angry opponents, as illustrated, were respectful throughout. No one was shouted down while I was there. In fact, there was very little shouting at all.

Sestak says he has another scheduled for Upper Darby; good for him! Others, like Dennis Moore in Kansas who cancelled his event, could learn from Sestak.

One last thing: I have read that joe Sestak has a legendarily bad temper, but if that’s the case it was not present last night. Other than a well-placed snotty comeback to one of the few wingers who got out of hand, Sestak reminded me of Steve Carrell as Michael Scott in The Office.