Last Friday night U.S. Rep. Joe Pitts faced an auditorium full of Democrats and Republicans -- liberals and conservatives -- and for two hours he kept the dialogue civilized and reasonable. He deserves congratulations for his control of what, in some other cases, has turned into rowdy shouting matches.
We are speaking, of course, of the town hall meeting at Unionville Elementary School to discuss the pending legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives to reform the healthcare system in the nation.
Pitts, a self-proclaimed conservative Republican, made no secret that he opposes the plan presented by Democratic liberals, but that did not prompt him to take cheap shots at his colleagues "on the other side of the aisle" in Washington.
Mr. Pitts is a former teacher, and perhaps that background served him well in overseeing a group of adults who appeared to be on the edge of acting out. During the two or three instances that members of the audience yelled out, he quickly responded unemotionally and diverted attention to the next question.
He also came to the meeting well-prepared. While his data clearly supported his positions against the current proposed legislation, he had handouts for the audience to look at, an assistant knowledgeable in the fine points of the bill, the actual 1,400-page document and a wealth of information in his head.
When people asked about specific aspects, e.g., How will this medical plan apply to the Amish and Christian Scientists?, he was ready with answers.
Additionally, Mr. Pitts avoided the bad behavior that broke out at the meeting of U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter and others by telling people right off the bat that there were no provisions for so-called "death panels," quelling fears that the U.S. Government was going to force them to pull the plug on their grandmother.
He also played his strong hand early on by mentioning the vast sums of money that Congress has spent in recent months, pointing out what most people of either political stripe suspect: that the economy is far from recovered even after the infusion of cash. In the same vein, he sided with almost everyone in saying that he did not want the government running his life or that of others.
There were some in the audience who had horror stories of care received (or not) under their present insurance providers or veterans' care. When they told their stories, Mr. Pitts listened patiently and appeared to give them his full respect, even offering personal help to a mother of two cancer-stricken children.
He did hedge a bit when he was presented with some well researched questions from the supporters of the government plan. It was obvious that his critics knew what they were talking about, but his responses were non-confrontational.
In fact, Mr. Pitts talked at some length about bi-partisan dialogue that he has experienced in the past and his hopes for that same spirit of cooperation in the future. He despaired over the wide splits between the parties and even praised inter-party work with President Bill Clinton in balancing the federal budget.
Another point must be made here, also.
While we are praising the congressman for his leadership, we must also give abundant credit to the members of the audience. For the most part, they were well-behaved, respectful and asked intelligent questions. Had they not been inclined to exercise self-control over a very emotional issue, the outcome of Friday's town meeting would have been different.