Healthcare Town Hall
Our Congresswoman, Lynn Woolsey, held a town hall meeting last week in Petaluma, within walking distance of our house. Knowing the tea-baggers would be out in force, even in our liberal town, I had to attend. It was astonishing. My daughter, a born writer, describes it so much better than I could:
It was everything I expected - and more! People would come up to the mike and ask Lynn Woolsey whether she had read the Constitution (a devastating rhetorical blow that was repeated multiple times!) Then there would be a bunch of whooping and hollering. Then Lynn Woolsey would say "yes!" Then there would be a rousing chorus of "Liar! Liar!" Then the guy at the microphone would ask Lynn Woolsey why she was trying to ram a government takeover of health care down the throats of honest Americans. Lynn Woolsey would explain that there is in fact no government health care takeover being proposed - merely the *option* of a government-run insurance policy. Then there would be another rousing chorus of "Liar! Liar!" Then someone else would come up to the microphone and ask Lynn Woolsey why she hated AMERICA!!! (Seriously. They did.) And Lynn Woolsey would give some sort of non-answer to this non-question. (Her best response all night, in my opinion? "I assume that's a rhetorical question.")
Sometimes this varied, in two major ways. Sometimes someone would come up to the microphone and explain how they'd had cancer and now couldn't afford health care anymore, which had them a little troubled given that cancer can be a recurrent disease, and they really hoped the public option would provide an option for them. Then there would be a bunch of booing and calls of "Communist!" Abusing cancer survivors and people in wheelchairs: classy. [ETA for scrupulous accuracy - I don't want to imply that there was as much abuse of sick people as there was of Lynn Woolsey and the public option. This was definitely a smaller subset of the group.]
Alternately, several times during the evening, people came up and told this story:
1) They had been trying to contact Lynn Woolsey for weeks! months! and her office had refused to tell them anything about her position on [issue x].
2) Finally, they had gotten through to someone who answered them.
3) That someone told them Lynn Woolsey didn't care about their opinions and that she would vote how she wanted to because she knew what was best for them.
So apparently, there's someone in Lynn Woolsey's phone-answering staff who is not only stupid enough to make that last statement, but is making it to every single conservative who calls! Amazing! Or perhaps, by the rules of civil debate favored by these groups, that would have been my cue to shout "Liar! Liar!"
I really wish I were exaggerating this for liberal humor effect. Sometimes it was actually pretty funny. But I'm not. I'm relaying stuff as near to verbatim as I can remember it, though there were interludes of saner questioning (from both sides, though honestly, more from the pro-reform side than from the anti-) that I haven't relayed.
Lynn Woolsey looked pretty uncomfortable up there, and frankly I would have too. Aside from the fact that having a room peppering you with vaguely insane questions and then screaming abuse at you while you try to talk isn't fun, I have to assume the congresspeople doing these meetings are wondering who's going to be the first to have a shot taken at them by the people who have been making such a show of bringing their guns to meetings (I'm actually pretty gun-friendly for a liberal, but I think all sane people can agree that guns have no place at crowded events with public figures and tempers running high).
I would say coverage of these meetings has in no way oversold the hysteria and craziness at these things. And this was in one of the most liberal areas of the country! Interestingly, the pro-reform people didn't jump up and yell all that often (though they clapped and sometimes cheered for stuff that excited them), but the few times they really did respond all-out, they were louder. Based on noise volume and how many people jumped up and cheered around me for the anti-reform rabble-rousing stuff, I would guess the audience was actually split roughly 70-30 or 60-40 pro-reform vs. anti-. But most of the time you wouldn't have known it from the volume.
Good times, good times.