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.


Anonymous said...

And pray tell me, Randy, when will Missouri voters get a chance to be in a voting booth with Sen. McCaskil's name on the ballot?....long after this "got to do it , sometime, now" vote on health care is made..

Voting is a great thing, but it can't help now...Obama and his crowd are demanding this vote now, whether it's a good bill or not....and you say people are supposed to sit on their hands and do their talking in the voting booth!

Yeah, the politicians would like that ... that's closing the barn door after the horse has run away..

as usual, your bright idea is not so bright...people in office now need to hear what people think now...not after it's too late and the slaughter is over

Randy said...

If you are saying that the only way a person can get his or her message across is to create a disruption at a meeting and not allow a politician the opportunity to make a statement, then that reasoning falls woefully short. While you are right that Sen. McCaskill does not come up for re-election for years, we have a U. S. senate campaign next year in which you do have a chance to make sure that the candidate who more closely shares your views is elected. We also elect representatives every two years. The 1993 Clinton attempt to reform healthcare is widely seen as the reason for the success of the 1994 Republican revolution. Change can come swiftly from either side if the people mobilize and take their frustrations to the ballot box. Attending town hall meetings in large numbers and asking tough questions is a part of that equation. But you should also listen quietly as those questions are answered, even if you do not agree with the answer.

Anonymous said...

Politicians represent us. Not matter if Democrat or Republican, they represent the people of their state. A vast majority of Americans do NOT like the healthcare changes promoted by Obama and a good majority of Democrat politicians. They've tried to make their voices clear on this, and sadly -- which seems to be a trend of Obama -- they have been ignored. When the people who vote to represent you don't listen to your concerns, anger usually manifests, which it has.

Clearly, the American people are saying "Nien!" to the Democrat-sponsored bill for healthcare reform. By definition, the bill should be scrapped. That it hasn't, that such folks are being called "bullies" or worse by the said politicians, is deeply - DEEPLY - troubling.

Ironically, many of these same Democrat politicians turning a deaf ears to the what their constituents are trying to tell them were the same ones who blasted Prez. Bush for not listening to the American people about the war in Iraq.

Anonymous said...

You just don't get it do you, Randy? You just don't get it....shut this site down....and get a life and maybe a few lessons on something besides "how to be someone's stooge."

Voting on our next senator doesn't do anything for getting a point across today...

Randy said...

Thanks for the suggestion, but I will keep on writing, and I am sure you will keep on reading.

Anonymous said...

I, for one, will keep on reading as long as you are dense enough to keep this going....reading your light bulbs makes those you dislike look better and better and better.

By the way, where's the answer to the charge that voting next year is going to affect the health care issue....can't wait for your answer.. then we'll all know what not to do or say

Anonymous said...

One writer says: "A vast majority of Americans do NOT like the healthcare changes promoted by Obama and a good majority of Democrat politicians."

A vast majority of the American Public have not even seen the healthcare bill. They have no idea what they are against. They only listen to what they hear from big mouths like Rush Loudmouth.

Don't tell me what the people are against, they have no idea. The same old story, the haves to not want to have nots to have anything....period.

Anonymous said...

Your wrong on this one Randy. If we let our President and whoever else is for this so called health care and cap and trade they will walk all over us. What I find strange is how rude it is when a conservative disrupts a town hall meeting and is negative as opposed to the feel good feeling put out when the same is done by a liberal Democrat.

Randy said...

That may be how somebody else feels, but I hate it when someone from either side creates a disruption.

Anonymous said...

And I hate it when elected officials forget they are public servants and have a responsibility to listen...I dare say many of us have read the so-called health bill a lot closer and more of it than all those office holders.

Some of us really do pay attention and don't have aides giving us the condensed version.

Sorry, but I think people have every right to be enraged as much over the arrogance of elected officials as they are of what theofficials are trying to slide through - "something" as they say. They just want to pass "something"

I see those people who are upset as a modern version of Thomas Paine and the early patriots who stood up to arrogance from the throne.