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Working In These Times

Sunday, Aug 9, 2009, 11:35 pm

GOP Tacitly Accepts Mob Violence While Progressives Step Up Reform Drive

BY Art Levine

With corporate violence spreading at some Town Hall events — death threats against a legislator, arrests, even guns being brought to a Memphis meeting — GOP leaders won’t condemn violent tactics, but even point to the mobs as a sign that they’re winning.

On “Fox News Sunday,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Democratic concern about the unruly crowds shows their political weakness (via Huffington Post):

 

In an appearance on “Fox News Sunday,” the Kentucky Republican largely dismissed the bile seen this past week at the health care forums held by Democratic lawmakers. But when pressed to weigh in more fully on the matter, he deemed it evidence that his side was winning the debate.

 

“Look, I don’t think either side ought to be trying to engage in disrupting meetings, either the Democratic side or the Republican side,” McConnell said. “We ought to focus on the issue. And to demonize citizens who are energetic about this strikes me as demonstrating a kind of weakness in your position. In other words, you want to change the subject. Rather than talk about the half-a-trillion dollars in Medicare cuts, let’s talk about somebody, in some town meeting, who misbehaved. That strikes me as missing the point.”

 

Even so, there are some growing signs of a successful pushback by progressives and unions, and efforts to reassert civility and democracy in these meetings.

 

Of course, the right-wing opponents of reform openly mock legislators, including Sen. Harry Reid, who have to turn to telephone conference calls because of the violence.

Yet there are Democats who are still able to conduct Town Halls with vigorous debates from opposing sides and a strong progressive showing, not GOP thuggery; that was shown by such events as Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s appearance at a clinic in Denver, the President’s forum in Indiana and Rep. Scott Murphy’s Town Hall meeting in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. (who has also used teleconferencing).

Bloggers are often providing more detailed and nuanced reporting about these events than mainstream media outlets. For instance, a Daily Kos diarist, MinistryofTruth, offered this eye-witness account of Murphy’s meeting (while lacing his comments with scorn for the GOP protesters):

 

Representative Murphy handled the crowd perfectly. He was very well informed and never stumbled for an answer, no matter how absurd the question. Very few of the questions asked pertained to health care reform, other than those from the left. Rather, I felt like we were debating whether we even need a Government at all…

 

NY-20 is a red district. Politically, I can understand why Scott Murphy did not go all in on a public option in the face of scared and stupid Republicans. Democrats were outnumbered at the Town Hall, but held their own. In a crowd of 100-200 the screamers were few, but the message from the Right is clear. That message is NO. No to everything, No to government, No, and greed, and I got mine, screw you…

 

And at Pelosi’s event, the Los Angeles Times reported strong debate, not intimidation:

 

As House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats toured a homeless clinic in Colorado this week, supporters of the plan matched the opponents shout for shout, sign for sign, hollering their own slogans at the afternoon traffic passing the Stout Street Clinic in downtown Denver.

 

Barred from entering the center where Pelosi addressed the news media and homeless advocates Thursday, the protesters on both sides of the debate mingled on the sidewalk. And here’s the interesting thing: They did so with relatively little of the hostility with which crowds have met Democrats making similar pitches at town hall meetings around the country.

One supporter, Vicki Rottman, found herself standing among opponents on the crowded sidewalk.
“I was able to talk to people whose views were different than mine. They seemed passionate, but willing to listen,” said Rottman, 63, a Denver artist who carried a sign reading, “Everybody In, Nobody Out.”

Over the din of the crowd, she said her insurance, which she buys for herself, has grown increasingly expensive. Since a battle with breast cancer, she said, she doubts another company would accept her.

 

But the violence of the mobs fueled by outright GOP lies, such as Sarah Palin’s claims of “death panels” — leading Pulitzer winner Steven Pearlstein to dub GOP leaders as “political terrorists” — continues to be disturbing.

Indeed, a thoughtful writer at Daily Kos underscores just how unhinged and racist-tinged the protests have become. The blogger cites a troubling email from a Tampa resident who attended the near-riot there (first flagged by The Atlantic‘s Ta-Nehisi Coates):

Yesterday evening I was to attend to the Health Care summit with(D) Rep Betty Reed and(D) Rep Kathy Castor, I’m a Precinct Captain (203) in Tampa and we received our talking points to rebut any NEGATIVE GOP talking points on healthcare. I never made it in the building. I’ve never in my life really experience outright racism in a public place. Signs of Obama hung in effigy, racial slurs on signs, people chanting negative words ( too many to list) and outright screaming at Obama supporters. The hatred was in their eyes and they actually scared me for a moment.

The Daily Kos writer then goes on to note (and the points are well-worth reading):

 

There seems little question that something odd is going on with the healthcare debate. Foremost is the ridiculous extent to which the debate has been entirely commandeered by flagrant, outright lies — things about euthanasia, and death panels, and the like, abject propaganda peddled directly from House and Senate offices. We have had lying in our discourse since the beginning of that discourse, but it has been a long while since the fabrications have been so blatant, so absolutely without even the smallest grain of truth. To take a Republican-sponsored healthcare provision that rather innocently and uncontroversially extends insurance coverage to those that want to create their own living wills and turn it into a declaration that the government will decide every five years whether or not you should be euthanized is something out of the Protocols [of Zion], or out of Saddam’s Iraq, or a mimicry of the worst and most stupid and most absurd of North Korean propaganda towards their own citizens.

 

Likewise, the explicit instruction to protesters not to debate, but to aggressively attempt to shut down the meetings entirely — not normal. It is perhaps the best possible approach for insurance lobbyists to take, if their goal is to protect the profits of their industry — but it is still not normal. We have always had the fringes of such speech, but I cannot recall a time it has been so celebrated as the formal solution to political debate. Certainly not by a major political party, coupled with the majority of their most popular pundits and talking heads, coupled again to lobbyist groups with long histories of corporate astroturfing. And the proud shuffling just-up-to-the-line-of-violence, right in the very faces of their own representatives of Congress, requiring police protection in order to escort those elected representatives safely from the meetings — that part is new. That part is not normal.

It is more than a little troubling that each of the recent, most explicitly aggressive and loud and factless “movements” to appear on the scene since our first black American president took office appear to be, in large part, made up of the same people.

 

With this as a backdrop, conservatives are prepping their followers to turn out in force for President Obama’s Town Hall in New Hampshire on Tuesday. NBC’s Chuck Todd reports:

 

BTW, here’s one invitation NBC News has gotten their hands on from a group rallying against the president. This is from the New Hampshire Republican Volunteer Coalition:

 

NHRVC members and others,

Barack Hussein Obama will be arriving in Portsmouth on Tuesday to hold a STAGED “Town Hall Meeting”, where he will essentially hand pick who the guests will be and what types of questions will be asked of him.

A MASSIVE protest rally is being organized just outside of the facility where Obama will be holding his “Town Hall Meeting” to promote his plan for a government takeover of your healthcare decisions.

There will be news media from all over the world at this event and it will be the ideal opportunity for us to tell the rest of the country exactly how NH voters feel about Obamacare (taxed/rationed healthcare). It will be the most important pro-liberty event of the year in NH and it is critically important that every one of us attend.

If you can, bring a sign that says something like, “OBAMACARE=TAXED/RATIONED HEALTHCARE”, etc.

Come anytime between 8am-4pm (peak time will be 11am-4pm)

See you there!!

 

The question is: How ugly will it get, and could the GOP face a backlash if all the right-wing racism, threats of violence and nuttiness that’s gone on at the previous Town Halls are displayed at a Presidential appearance?

And how effective will the ramped-up progressive strategies ultimately prove to be? These include Organizing for America’s new call to activists to visit Congressional district offices, all designed to show members of Congress that they should stand up for what a majority of the public wants: genuine health care reform with a public option.

Equally important, will Democrats be able to regain control of the narrative and messaging about health care, and not be stuck in a political climate where the President has to deny that he’s planning to euthanize old people?

What’s really at stake here, of course, is the desire of the insurance industry to protect its profits while denying their customers their contracted care, as described in a powerful new series of videos done by Robert Greenwald’s Brave New Films. The first one focuses on UnitedHealth Care’s Stephen Hemsley’s nearly $750 million in payments and bonuses contrasted with a little girl who couldn’t get life-saving care from his company.

Art Levine, a contributing editor of The Washington Monthly, has written for Mother Jones, The American Prospect, The New Republic, The Atlantic, Slate.com, Salon.com and numerous other publications.

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