This week, Sen. Dick Durbin came out swinging against those
conservative activists aiming to disrupt as many congressional town
hall meetings on health care reform as possible. "Let me tell you,
these town hall meetings have now been orchestrated by the tea baggers
This week, Sen. Dick Durbin came out swinging against those conservative activists aiming to disrupt as many congressional town hall meetings on health care reform as possible. "Let me tell you, these town hall meetings have now been orchestrated by the tea baggers and the birthers to just be a free-for-all, make a lot of noise, go on YouTube and show discord," Durbin told the Sun-Times' Lynn Sweet. "I mean that is what they are determined to do."
Outside of a St. Louis-area forum yesterday, things really got out of hand when six people were arrested during one of these demonstrations called by U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-St. Louis). On MSNBC's The Ed Show yeterday, Rep. Jan Schakowsky echoed Durbin's sentiments, pointing out that the interference can actually squelch debate among concerned citizens. Watch it here:
SCHAKOWSKY: Town meetings … people do get kind of hot. But they come with their own particular interest and they are there to ask a question or even to pressure the member of Congress, but not to absolutely shut off debate … So what about the ordinary constituent whose coming to actually learn something? What is this health care program going to mean to me to me. […]
But it’s turned into a theatre that’s depriving ordinary constituents in districts around the country from actually meeting with their congressman and finding out what they need to know.
Why do right-wingers feel the need to disrupt these events rather than engage in civil discourse with their elected officials and fellow constituents? Because a health care reform bill is advancing in D.C. and spreading misinformation is their only hope of blocking it.
The same survey offered a preview of the debate that now awaits us. When voters were asked to rate Obama's health-care plan, 36 percent said it was a good idea and 42 percent called it a bad one. But later in the poll, when the interviewer read an accurate, neutrally phrased description of the main features of the plan that Obama supports, it commanded strong support -- winning approval 56 to 38 percent.
What could cause this disparity? When conservative activists and like-minded representatives spread falsehoods and the media fails to fact-check sufficiently, the standard voter can easily get confused about the content and intentions of what is a complicated bill. Then, Republicans can campaign against "Obamacare," glossing over the central components of the legislation, which remain very popular.
It's a strategy that worked in 1994. Fifteen years later, Republicans in Illinois and elsewhere are trying again. And there's a danger it will succeed.