Well-attended and boisterous townhall meetings would ordinarily bode well for citizen involvement in politics, but violent incidents at several recent healthcare meetings--Tampa and St. Louis for example--are the work of agitated mobs trying to shut down the political process rather than contribute to it. Jeffrey Feldman writes at FrameShop about the Tampa townhall:
Americans trying earnestly to gather with their neighbors and engage in discussions about health insurance reform should beware of every account they read that depicts town hall disruptions as generic, two-sided violence. Beware, because these descriptions are false.
The health insurance reform debate in this country is not a fight between two violent sides. It is a peaceful discussion that right-wing mobs are trying to stop and prevent. [...] Those peaceful town hall meetings were not invaded by protesters from every political stripe. They were invaded and attacked by one specific kind of group: mobs of organized, right-wing agitators wielding a strategy of disruptive escalation: shouting, then fist waving, then pounding on glass.
Remember: the last time we left a mob of Florida Republican operatives disrupt the political process, we got saddled with Pretzeldunce Chimpy McFlightsuit in the White House. If they shut down townhalls by shouting down every option but the status quo, US healthcare will never get any better. Here's a video of a GOP front group spokesperson likening Obama's healthcare plan to the Nazi's Final Solution. Logan Murphy wrote at Crooks and Liars about the "hostile calls and even death threats" being delivered made to SEIU union members, and this AP article talks about others being made to our elected officials. This is the sort of lunacy that Paul Krugman called "something new and ugly in "The Town Hall Mob:"
There was a telling incident at a town hall held by Representative Gene Green, D-Tex. An activist turned to his fellow attendees and asked if they "oppose any form of socialized or government-run health care." Nearly all did. Then Representative Green asked how many of those present were on Medicare. Almost half raised their hands.
Now, people who don't know that Medicare is a government program probably aren't reacting to what President Obama is actually proposing. They may believe some of the disinformation opponents of health care reform are spreading, like the claim that the Obama plan will lead to euthanasia for the elderly. (That particular claim is coming straight from House Republican leaders.)
WaPo's Steven Pearlstein notes that Republicans are "Propagating Falsehoods" to derail healthcare reform, but some in the media are actually beginning to call them out for it. For example, Newt Gingrich was on ABC's This Week defending Palin's "death panel" paranoia (see Crooks and Liars and ThinkProgress for the video and transcripts). George Stephanopoulos repeatedly noted that the "death panel" fears are "not in the bill," but Newt was undeterred by the facts. My favorite part is when Howard Dean schooled Newt on what actually happens in medical offices:
I've practiced for 10 years. My wife is still practicing. Never once did I have a Medicare bureaucrat tell me what I could or couldn't do for a patient, but all the time we have bureaucrats from the insurance companies calling up and saying, "We're not going to cover this, and we're not going to pay for that, and we're denying coverage of that."
Both PolitiFact and FactCheck have debunked the elderly-euthanasia claims, but that won't matter to the "deathers," who are probably busy fashioning ever-more-elaborate conspiracy theories as we speak--and selecting the victims of their next riot.