Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Further thoughts on disruptions at town hall meetings
(The following, which is reworked from a post from last week, is my column for this week's Newton County News. The accompanying video, taken from Sen. Claire McCaskill's town hall meeting, is yet another example of the type of bad behavior that has cheapened political discourse in this country.)
It was 22 years ago when I was the editor of the Lamar Democrat that I assigned a young Golden City High School senior Peggy Brinkhoff , an intern, to cover her first story, a town hall meeting held by Sen. John Danforth at the Horton Building in Lamar.
I went with her to take pictures, make sure everything went well, and because I have always had a great admiration for Sen. Danforth. It should have been a simple assignment, an examination of politics at its finest, a public servant coming home to hear what his constituents have to say.
It didn't quite work out that way.
I don't remember the particular issues now, but one young man, a recent graduate of Liberal High School, asked the first question in a rude and disrespectful manner and then kept challenging Sen. Danforth, primarily because he did not get the answer he wanted.
"Do people normally act like this?" Peggy asked me.
"This is the first time I've seen anything like it."
The young man continued to shout out questions every few minutes and I, and most of the people who attended the meeting, felt uncomfortable about the way it was going.
Looking back, I suppose it was a portent of things to come. And to give the young man credit, after Bubs Hohulin was elected state representative in 1990, he was consistent. He often treated constituents whose viewpoints did not coincide with his, with the same disdain.
That Lamar town hall meeting came to mind these last few days as I have watched rude, obnoxious everyday citizens, supposedly acting on their own volition, preventing the democratic process from taking place. YouTube is overflowing with videos of leather-lunged fools not allowing elected officials to speak, and then when the officials are finally able to get in a word edgewise, they are almost immediately shouted down.
The disruption being caused at town hall meetings is not a way of creating a dialogue about important issues; it is a way to keep these issues from being discussed. I have no problems with those who feel strongly about issues encouraging people to pack the halls for the meetings; that is what America is all about. Shouting down elected officials and acting like a bunch of thugs is not. If your ideas are strong enough, you don't need to bully and intimidate to get your message across.
If town hall meetings cannot be held with any semblance of dignity, the odds are town hall meetings will not be held at all, and that would be a great loss for this country.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with organizing to oppose legislation, whether it be about healthcare, or cap and trade, the Employee Free Choice Act or anything else that may come before Congress, but it needs to be done in a dignified way and not like what we have seen recently at the town hall meetings, or what we have seen the last couple of years from the Code Pink women who have disrupted numerous hearings.
What these people need to remember is there is a place where they can register their complaints so loudly that people will have to pay attention- in the voting booth.