(Town)hallmarks of dissention

Aug 26, 2009 at 5:00 am

Ever watched a movie so bad you wished you had those two wasted hours back?

I’m hoping that’s not my regret next week after I moderate Rep. John Yarmuth’s in-person town hall meeting at Central High School (Wednesday, Sept. 2, 6:30 p.m.).

When it appeared that the congressman only intended to have three tele-town halls, I volunteered my services, hoping they would further entice Yarmuth to take his chances on what could be a volatile and colossal waste of time.

I’m optimistic, but then again, I believe the Ohio River Bridges will be built.

So far, actual town hall meetings on health care reform have not been so good.

There have been tele-town halls, ridiculous congressional attempts to avoid ugly confrontations. There have been “by-invitation-only” events, engineered so that senators or representatives speak to like-minded crowds. Lately some senators and representatives have even gone all Barney Frank, unleashing angry tirades on their audiences.

Public ire is also off the charts. On the positive side, legions of previously apathetic voters have begun to care enough about an issue of national importance that they are educating themselves and actually voicing their concerns or support. On the negative side, activist groups are whipping naïve voters into frenzies by playing on their fears and hijacking public forums by staging fake grassroots protests.

There’s a joke. “Grassroots” as defined by the Princeton WordNet is common people at a local level, as distinguished from more typical centers of organized political activity. Today, every town-hall-attending woman and her sister are claiming to be a grassroots movement. In reality, their events are funded, promoted and even hosted by special interest groups. Occasionally this important fact is disclosed, such as before a recent “Speaker Forum” in Jeffersonville. More often, however, local citizens are just a front for an activist group trying to advance its own agenda. That was the case with last week’s so-called doctor’s forum on health care reform — that spotlighted the evils of legalized abortion.

That’s sleazier than a one-night stand at Porcini.

Also indigenous to town hall forums, as infrequently as they’re being held, are crazy lies and insipid accusations, such as the claim that mandatory end-of-life counselors are really death panels designed to kill your grandma. Add to those conspiracy theories about the government building internment camps, legions of military troops being assembled in advance of a martial law declaration, and prognostications about compulsory inoculations of toxic vaccines.

Don’t laugh just yet, Democrats. Obama sheeple have cavalierly stated that efforts to oppose the current reform legislation are “un-American” and “are part of a deliberate plot … to kill any reform at all.” Then there was the White House blog that encouraged people to e-mail “if you see something fishy,” and the DNC activist group Organizing For America making statements such as, “We’ve cooked up an easy way for you to make a big impression.” No wonder both parties have their freak flags flying in full force.

Which brings us back to Yarmuth’s town hall at Central High School. Love him or hate him, give him credit for being the only commonwealth congressman holding a bona fide, open public meeting. Rep. Hal Rogers scheduled none at all. Rep. Brett Guthrie had one tele-hall. Rep. Ed Whitfield is hosting four tele-halls, consecutively, one day of the August recess. Rep. Ben Chandler so far has appeared at invitation-only events. Rep. Geoff Davis’s office says “while the congressman recovers from his surgery, he is responding to e-mails, letters and messages about health care from his constituents. Additionally, his staff is meeting with constituents and listening to their views on health care.”

Quite the bunch of cowardly excuses for not wanting to face angry constituents. It’s the job of elected officials to dialogue with voters they supposedly represent. Especially when the going gets rough. (By the way, don’t hold your breath waiting for an event of any kind from our senators.)

Truthfully, the lofty goal of swaying opinion, pro or con, on health care and insurance reform probably isn’t attainable with one town hall or even several — but the target of civil discourse hopefully is.

Will merely listening to each other be enough to placate the savage political beast? Will critical, respectful conversation move us forward toward a mutually beneficial compromise on reform? We’ll see. I just hope at the end of the night I’m not wishing I had my two hours back.