It's August, and the heat is on. I'm not talking about the weather, but rather the temperature of town hall meetings that Democratic representatives are trying to conduct for their constituents during the House of Representatives' scheduled "Summer District Work Period."
The town hall meeting, a tradition that goes back to colonial New England, is intended to allow local people to speak and voice concerns, as well as ask questions of elected officials. How civil. How democratic. How American!
Now let's jump from seventeenth-century colonial New England to America in the summer of 2009. Town hall meetings organized by Democratic members of Congress have been highjacked by groups of right-wing extremists who don't come for civil dialogue on Obama's health care reform but rather to create noise, confusion, and ultimately prevent any logical discussion whatsoever.
Americans under Amendment I of the United States Constitution have "freedom of speech" and the right "peacefully to assemble." These two ideas, declared in the same sentence under our Bill of Rights, should work simultaneously for a town hall meeting. But they can't when one side's sole purpose is to shut down the assembly.
Jake Tapper of ABC News stated that in Austin "Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, was shouted down before he could even speak." In an interview with ABC News, Doggett questioned the authenticity of the protests: "This notion of a grass-roots campaign is totally and completely phony."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sent out a facts sheet that refers to the "grass roots" campaign from the right as "Astroturf, the Washington euphemism for a corporate public relations campaign disguised to look like a grassroots citizen movement," according to Patricia Murphy of Politics Daily. Could these down-home protestors be pawns for the health care industry?
Jake Tapper's article states "there's clearly some organization and strategy" to the disruptive protests at town hall meetings. He quotes Bob MacGuffie who says, "We're organizing those voices, but it's a real emotion, from coast to coast." Why can't MacGuffies' followers use reasoning rather than disruption and discord to change the hearts and minds of their Democratic representatives?
Tapper mentions a memo, actually it's a leaked signed memo entitled "Rock the Town Halls — Best Pratices" by MacGuffie, who is a founding member of Right Principles, a right-wing website. The memo outlines the strategies for the so-called "grass roots" movement.
The three page memo, published in its entirety at thinkprogress.org, encourages protestors to "rock the boat early," "watch for an opportunity to yell out," "rattle him," "get him off prepared script and agenda," and "seek out any press."
These actions seem contrary to MacGuffie's stated belief in representative government, which appears in his little bio on the Right Principles website: "I am a firm believer in our founding fathers' concept of a 'citizen legislature,' whereby a representative of the community does their [sic] service and represents the community in the state capital or Washington D.C., and then returns to the community."
And then there is Dick Armey of FreedomWorks. You remember him — former House Majority Leader and currently corporate lobbyist, as well as chairman of FreedomWorks. According to Susan Sturgis writing for the online magazine of the Institute for Southern Studies, FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity are "political advocacy groups representing corporate interests with a financial stake in blocking change."
FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity "orchestrated the 'Tea Party' protests earlier this year against government spending, and they're now working to create an impression of strong public opposition to health care reform," states Sturgis. So are the tea baggers from the spring protests against Obama and his policies the same protestors who are shouting down their Democratic representatives? Did you notice the man with the sign that reads "Fort Stanwix Tea Party Patriots" at the town hall meeting in Utica, New York? He's the man who yelled that House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer was lying to him.
Is it any surprise that FreedomWorks and Tea Party Patriots, among other right-wing national groups, are sponsoring the march on Washington D.C. come September to protest Obama and his policies, specifically health care reform? Does this sound like a "grass roots" movement? With billions and billions of dollars at stake for the corporate health care industry, the "grass roots" town hall meeting protests smell a little like plastic — like Astroturf.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Carol Jensen is a long-time Barstow resident, graduating from Kennedy High School and Barstow College, where she was an English instructor for many years. Much of her time now is spent writing political and social commentary. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.