Does anyone remember when Town Hall forums were civil affairs that gave citizens a chance to speak freely to their elected representatives in a civil conversation?
Yeah, that would have been last week. In the days since, Republicans and their astroturf gangs of protesters have transformed town halls into outlets for their prearranged shoutfests ginned up by Fox talkers.
The old town-hall forum may never be the same. And the country is the worse for it.
Check out the ugliness yesterday in Tampa Bay. It certainly fits the blueprint for action laid out early on in this effort: Disrupt, distract, and destroy any chance for an actual civil and informed conversation. In other words, demolish the entire purpose of a town-hall forum.
Some commentators have tried to play down the mob aspect of these scenes, likening the campaign against health reform to the campaign against Social Security privatization back in 2005. But there’s no comparison. I’ve gone through many news reports from 2005, and while anti-privatization activists were sometimes raucous and rude, I can’t find any examples of congressmen shouted down, congressmen hanged in effigy, congressmen surrounded and followed by taunting crowds.
And I can’t find any counterpart to the death threats at least one congressman has received.
... [T]he driving force behind the town hall mobs is probably the same cultural and racial anxiety that’s behind the “birther” movement, which denies Mr. Obama’s citizenship. Senator Dick Durbin has suggested that the birthers and the health care protesters are one and the same; we don’t know how many of the protesters are birthers, but it wouldn’t be surprising if it’s a substantial fraction.
And cynical political operators are exploiting that anxiety to further the economic interests of their backers.
No one has a problem with right-wingers marching in protest of the health-care plans. That's certainly their right. And no one minds that they choose to participate in these forums. But town halls were never designed to be vehicles for protest. They have always been about enabling real democratic discourse in a civil setting.
When someone's entire purpose in coming out to a town-hall forum is to chant and shout and protest and disrupt, they aren't just expressing their opinions -- they are actively shutting down democracy.
And that, folks, is a classically fascist thing to do.