Our political Quote of the Day comes from Philadelphia Inquirer columnist/blogger Dick Polman on the increasingly tempestuous Town Hall meetings held by Democrats to discuss health care reform and the role of Town Hall meeting protesters and heckers.
First, the beginning of his analysis, titled “Goon Power”:
I was in college when I first witnessed goon squads in action. Back in those distant days, left-wing radicals would storm into the auditorium and shout down conservative speakers with whom they disagreed. These assaults on free speech occurred all the time. Far more recently, in the autumn of 2003, I covered a Democratic rally in Los Angeles and found myself surrounded by screaming left-wing protesters who were determined to disrupt my street interview with Duff Sundheim, the California chairman of the Republican party. He had come to the rally to offer another point of view, and I wanted to get it into my notes. I wound up yelling back at the protesters and defending the Republican chairman’s right to be heard. Sundheim was so startled at my outburst that he said to me, “Hey, man, I owe you a beer.”
Lately, however, the angry right appears to have cornered the market on anti-democratic thuggery. The incidents mount with each passing day. With aid and encouragement from fake-grassroots corporate lobbying outfits, as well as from the Republican party, are making a mockery of the American town hall tradition……
….The right-wingers who drowned out congressman Lloyd Doggett in Texas, who shouted down congressman Tim Bishop on Long Island, who screamed insults at congressman John Dingell in Michigan, who forced congresswoman Kathy Castor to cut short her meeting in Florida, who heckled and harassed congressman Steve Kagen in Wisconsin, who shouted down congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick of Arizona so severely that she had to cancel the event during its opening minutes…these are people who actually think they are standing up for America, when, in truth, they are subverting the American tradition of free speech.
Now his ending:
Obviously, there are legitimate grounds for questioning many aspects of the Democratic health reform effort, and not all town hall dissidents should be lumped with the goons. But it is nevertheless chilling to hear Pete Sessions, chairman of the National Republican Campaign Committee, declare that the days of civil town halls are “now over,” while offering nary a rebuke to those who exhibit anti-democratic behavior. Nor should we expect him to. The Republican strategy is not to find the best road to health care reform via a two-way dialogue; it’s about breaking Barack Obama and regaining power – and the goon squads are very useful.
Read it in its entirety.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.