Town Hall Tactics In Action

Joe recently wrote a post linking to a memo for anti-Democratic groups to use during the town halls that are taking place around the country to push health care reform. He said it was a sign of lowering the bar on political debate, but I read it and had no problem with the content. It encouraged people to look at voting records and statistics, and confront their representatives when they felt they were being misleading in a way to get them off their message.

I wrote:

To be fair, the entire guide was focused around looking at their voting record and collecting statistics, then being disruptive when you feel that they are being disinegenuous. It didn’t say “make a commotion if the audience gets on his side,” just get them off the talking points that he can’t back up.

Personally, I don’t see much wrong with that because the information/noise content by politicians is basically zero. If they actually let there be a full response to go into further detail and clarification, then I think it’s much more admirable than listening to the normal BS.

On the other hand I was extremely skeptical the they would respect my caveat and allow a response. Here is a video that shows a bit of these tactics in action.
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From that snippet I have to say that I don’t see anything wrong; on the contrary I thought that it very clearly revealed Sen.(oops, it is Rep.) Hoyer’s inability to make a strong argument. I’m definitely not against government run health care in principle, but from what I’ve read the current bill seems like it’s going to become the Democrat’s version of the Medicare Drug Bill, which I think is the worst spending program in recent times. Even if I disagree with the groups that are using these tactics about most things, at least they are purporting to demand accuracy in statistics and challenging fluff statements. I dislike the use of quasi-patriotic and fallacious pablum that politicians traffic in regardless of what they’re selling, so if this causes them to decrease that stuff even marginally I’m all for it.

Update: Here is a report that suggests that not all of these town hall confrontations are constructive. Of course that means that this will be yet another thing that turns into a false dichotomy instead of opposing the destructive displays while condoning the honest challenges.

         

Author: MIKKEL FISHMAN, Economics Editor

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23 Comments

  1. I have to agree with Joe.

    If someone starts bringing up voting records, quotes statistics or points out when their representative is lying they need a good beating by union thugs. Then, their names need to be placed on the White House Enemies List.

    Just because we have a Constitution that talks about free speech, it doesn’t mean there is a right to criticize Obama. He’s black, you know. Anyone speaking against socialize medicine is therefore a racist.

    Why do these right-wing crazies want their congressmen to read these bills before voting for them anyway? What kind of Nazi, KKK inspired idea is that?

    When will all good Americans realize that it’s their duty to report anyone speaking against Obama’s programs? Let’s all pitch in and help Nancy Pelosi expose all of the swastika wearing protesters.

  2. “If someone starts bringing up voting records, quotes statistics or points out when their representative is lying they need a good beating by union thugs. Then, their names need to be placed on the White House Enemies List.”

    That's a nice self-martyrizing strawman you got there. Shame if anything happened to it.

  3. Thanks for weighing in on this, Mikkel- it's refreshing to see someone who is actually reading and thinking and not spouting the party line. And even though you are also breaking ranks by saying that you don't support the plan in its current form, I know that you'd still be honest about your opinion of the opponents' use of these tactics even if you believed in the plan and wanted it to pass.

  4. If this is Mikkel from CR, then it is worth it to give some thought to his words. However, we need to be mindful of what is a legitimate redress of grievances, and what is a mob-engineered shoutfest. People have a right to ask their own questions and not have PR firms put them up to it for the purpose of keeping their corporate clients happy.

  5. Re your update- it's also unfortunately somewhat of a self fulfilling prophecy because the more that people's legitimate grievances are belittled and dismissed (including by Obama, disappointingly), the more angry people become.

  6. It is unfortunate because those who have a legitimate beef are shouted over by the trolls/shills, and then get swept up into the wrong current of hysteria. Spoils it for the rest of them.

    happens on both sides and is a negative aspect of our human nature- people feel safer, stronger in a mob than they do as a lone voice of dissent.

  7. CStanley–

    When did Obama belittle and dismiss anyone's legitimate grievances over this issue?

  8. Pretty much everything I've heard him say, George- instead of answering his critics he attempts to delegitimize them as corporate shills or people who are too dumb to not be fooled by the corporations.

  9. CStanley–

    Pretty much everything I've heard him say, George- instead of answering his critics he attempts to delegitimize them as corporate shills or people who are too dumb to not be fooled by the corporations.

    If everything he's ever said is a good example, it should be easy for you to provide some direct quotes of him calling people corporate shills or saying they are too dumb not to be fooled by the corporations.

    As to that quote you provided, you're out here in a public forum claiming it is belittling and dismissive. I don't see those things in it and I doubt anyone else does either.

    The most insulting thing is the reference to his opponents supporting the status quo. That's not exactly red-meat style rhetoric, CStanley.

  10. Yea, I don't see it either. It is not at all like some of the right wing stuff I have gotten in the mail that make crazy statements like Obama and the liberals want to 'destroy America', etc. Your example is hardly partisian.

  11. From my perspective, I'm most upset at Obama for continuing to support the plan even though so many changes have been made to the bill, there is little hope of it fulfilling the aims he set out to accomplish. It's turning into the stimulus bill, which was terribly inefficient and didn't have good long term aims either.

    Obama knows this, but takes the “something is better than anything” approach, and is making things into battle lines. He should just say “well if there isn't support for the ideal version of the insurance at the moment, let's at least pass a bill that does a better job of protecting people with individual insurance” and keep pressing the need for a smarter program later.

  12. I stand by what I wrote…I didn't say he was hurling insults at people and saying his level of rhetoric is above the worst of the worst is hardly a reasonable standard to hold him to. Fact is that every time he addresses his critics, he doesn't seriously address the real concerns.

    And as far as quotes- the point is George that it's not any one particular thing that he's said that I take issue with (except for some of the things that are untrue which I've pointed out to you before.) It's the entire dismissiveness- IOW, it's what is missing that I'm disappointed in, because he hasn't seriously addressed or rebutted any of the real problems with the bills that are being put out.

  13. I can see your point, mikkel, but honestly a lot of the plan seems very close to what he campaigned on- and I never saw how that plan was going to accomplish the stated goals either.

  14. CStanley–

    I can hardly believe I'm reduced to this.

    You said he was being dismissive and belittling. You said he was calling people corporate shills. You said he was calling people dumb. You said everything he said was like that.

    You made these complaints in a public forum.

    Do you think people can't read the things you wrote here?

  15. I didn't say those were direct quotes, GS, and if you don't know exactly what I mean then I'm sure a lot of other readers do. If you're going to insist on pinning me down to exact quotes, I will see what I can find but have to sign off soon. I know for certain that there have been a lot of statements from Gibbs that have alleged astroturfing (which is where I get the corporate shills reference- again not a direct quote but it's the same accusation, that the dissenters are not real people expressing their own thoughts but paid agitators for the insurance industry.)

    I also anticipate that you'll cry foul if I give a quote from Gibbs, but please don't try to pretend that the president's press secretary does not speak for him. Press secretaries don't create the message, they go out and tout the line that represents the WH position.

  16. Mikkel–

    Hoyer's not a Senator.

    It's a shame he isn't more articulate. And he's wrong about the unemployment numbers, which is, to repeat, wrong. But the people screaming at him are being unfair. For example, that whole thing about the bill taking “three weeks”–come on. It's fair enough to say he should be held to a higher standard, but all his antagonists are doing is making noise.

    I think his analogy to the Erie Canal–to functional infrastructure–is very good.

    I'm less sure of your analogy to Medicare Part D, which is something I've been complaining about myself lately. I can't say for sure at this point how the sausage being made will turn out, but it seems to me that the Democrats are sweating the numbers to make the bill revenue neutral. I don't know if you take requests, but I wonder if you can expand on that comparison?

  17. Obama had certain benchmarks (how many people would be covered, limiting health cost inflation, etc.) that he campaigned on and a cost for those benchmarks. The current plan doesn't meet those benchmarks, yet costs the same and may cost more. Either his campaign was completely wrong (in which case he should say so — maybe he has and I haven't seen it) or the actual proposals have made it worse. In either case I don't see how he could support the current stuff because the numbers don't make sense.

  18. Oops, I'm not sure why I put Senator considering he was involved in the House leadership bruhaha.

    In any case, I'm rather antagonistic towards authority, especially when they rile up a sense of false urgency, which the Democrats are doing. So I don't really see them as out of line considering everything, and would like to see more confrontation towards the government on all matters. I do think it is ridiculous that the media and Republicans are portraying this as some sort of good ole American Free Speech Ideal, while during the lead up to Iraq and the Patriot Act, people that were antagonistic towards the line were unpatriotic and such [and don't get me started on the "let them fail" crowd that had no idea what it was actually advocating for].

    In any case, I will put up a post at some point saying why I think it is going to be very very similar. Their “revenue neutral” bill will require a tax burden that people won't support, and the benefits will affect relatively few people in obtuse ways. Most of the criticism on these points that I've read is actually coming from the Left.

  19. I'm looking forward to reading it.

    I'm well aware of the fact that there's a lot of criticism from the left. Obama is not some kind of wild leftist and the blue dogs are not leftists at all. I'm not a leftist myself. Our country is not run by the left.

    As for the false urgency, there are 46 million people in America who don't have health insurance. Maybe you don't know any of them. Maybe you don't know anyone with a pre-existing condition. The urgency doesn't seem false to me, Mikkel. At all.

    And as for the antagonism, I don't know if you've ever gone to a townhall style meeting. Eleven people speak, two of them express–what to call it?–such confused, polymorphic hostility that everyone else leaves feeling sorry for the elected guy even if they didn't vote for him. I've seen people like the guy with the sign–he doesn't help his case. The astroturfers would have been more effective if they had organized their side around something beside anger.

    PS As the guy on the front page, you're now the authority figure. ; )

  20. And now Fox reports that a town hall in Tampa became violent. When you ramp epole up the way Beck, Limbaugh, Cavtuo at al do, should it be a surprise when something like this happens. And there will be more violence. Count on it. And than undoubtedly, Mr. Beck and his ilk will make hay from this and say that the mob was pushed to it by those damned socialist liberals.

  21. The video of the tampa event is here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/08/06/tampa-

    It's questionable whether it rises to the level of “violence”. But in any case, it's just as likely (and impossible to tell based on the video) that the improper behavior was instigated by those who opposed the protesters. If the protesters are being encouraged by right-wing commentators (I'm still waiting for someone to tell me why that makes the protest less valid–the right to free speech includes organized free speech), then those who oppose the protesters are doing the same thing on their side by characterizing them as a uneducated mob of pawns of the insurance industry. Howard Dean even said they were violent (that was before this incident).

  22. Having watched a couple of videos of the Tampa incident, I saw a lot of angry people who'd been locked out of the meeting and were behaving rudely (from the video clip it was impossible to tell which came first- were they locked out because they were noisily protesting, or did they become agitated over being shut out? It could be either way.)

    There are other reports, from St. Louis, I think, alleging that healthcare reform supporters from SEIU were being shuffled into a side entrance (a handicapped entrance which others were told they could not use) while anti-reform bill attendees were left standing in line at the front entrance.

    If the Congressmen/women involved are serious about meeting their obligation to face the public but want to do it in an orderly way, there are some obvious solutions. Get an indoor venue that's large enough to hold everyone. Send out invites to everyone in your district, with explanations that everyone will be required to prove residency to gain admittance (therefore, no possibility for people to claim outside agitators are stirring the pot.) Explain also that people will be given an allotted time to speak as long as they remain orderly, and that security will be on hand to remove anyone who disrupts the meeting. Explain what the capacity of the venue is, and promise that if an excessive number show up, then a second meeting will be planned to accomodate the others. Provide security outside as well, to allow for protesters whose may wish to express opinions in a manner other than the Q&A format inside the hall.

    Of course, taking time to create an organized plan to accomodate their constituents need to voice concerns assumes that the Congressperson actually wants to hear those concerns and respond to them. How about it, Reps and Senators? Are you interested in doing that, or is it more convenient to fan the flames and then pretend these people are displaying false outrage which we should just ignore?

  23. Well, maybe we should wait until it does…?

    Either we're going to have reasonable discussions of a serious, pressing issue which needs to be addressed, or we're going to have circuses. The ultra-right evidently prefers the circuses.

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