This past Saturday, February 19th, I was invited to attend a Town Hall meeting that was sponsored jointly by Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Beijing) and Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Fundraising Luncheons). The invitation came via robocall from Sen. Kirk; I suspect by virtue of my recently e-mailing a nasty-gram to him regarding his flip-flop on cap and trade legislation.
The town hall meeting was held in the gymnasium of an elementary school in the community that is adjacent to that in which I live. I left in plenty of time to assure myself a seat, so I thought, but 400 to 500 constituents, leaving standing room only, attended the event. Some brought the axes that they wished to grind; some were seemingly content with basking in a brush with celebrity.
In the aftermath of the tragedy in Tucson, there were perhaps a half dozen local uniformed police present as well as what appeared to be personal security for Senator Kirk. I was surprised to see that there were no metal detectors set up to screen the crowd, this being a Republican function, with their devotion to security over liberty being legend.
I had come prepared with a half dozen questions to put to my congressional representatives, hoping to have them defend the indefensible in their answers. A woman who was evidently an aide to Sen. Kirk canvassed the crowd for anyone who might have a written question to submit to the Senator, and since I had all of the questions written up separately, I offered her one of them, asking why we support oil companies with four billion dollars in subsidies each year. It was an exercise in futility, as the Senator did not address a single written question during the meeting.
Finally, Sen. Kirk entered, the requisite introductions were offered as he brought up State Rep. Renee Kosel, and who I believe was State Sen. Pamela Altoff, both Republicans hoping for a little shirttail boosterism as they offered "me too!" commentary on Sen. Kirks remarks. But they were mostly around for the confirmatory clucking they offered to Kirk's sad appraisals of Illinois' fiscal condition. Rep. Kinzinger, we were told, would not be able to appear since he was in session with the House until 5:00 that morning. It seems that he had to cast his vote on the Republican wet dream of a continuing budgetary resolution that sought to eliminate the government that he claims to be a part of.
Kirk jumped right into presenting his Republican bona fides by putting up a chart that ostensibly recorded an exponentially rising federal deficit. It was presented in a light to demonstrate that George W. Bush's deficits were responsible and manageable, but exploded with the arrival of the Obama presidency.
At that point it occurred to me to play truth squad, so I called out, "Your chart is misleading! It doesn't show the cost of the wars that Bush carried off budget!" This was completely ignored by the Senator as it was remonstrated against by nearby proponents of the right who said, "Shhhh!", or "Let the Senator speak!", or "How rude!"; evidently forgetting the TEA Party playbook that they had so heartily endorsed in the previous year or more. There was, at least, a smattering of applause that rose up behind me for the comment.
I sat mute through the rest of the presentation, which was basically a pitch to support Republican austerity for those who didn't know better.
We were then treated to an appearance from Rep. Adam Kinzinger via Skype from Washington, D.C. He didn't appear to be too bleary eyed from his marathon day and night on the House floor. He gave a brief history of his voting, as there is no extended history to address. He interrupted himself on at least three occasions to admonish his audience that we are all Americans without regard to our political persuasions, and should be civil to one another. I was happy enough to accept such a thing at face value despite having seen the Congressman in campaign mode.
Suddenly, in mid-sentence, nay, mid-word, the Congressman's image abruptly disappeared from the screen. Recovering from my moment of surprise, I considered how nice it would be if the electorate could dispose of him as quickly.
With this uncounted on savings in time, constituents were invited to line up at one of two miked podia set up to allow them to ask questions. I moved to join the queue, ending up about a dozen constituents back in one of the lines. A quick assessment of my position revealed that it was unlikely that I would be able to address the Senator, but nevertheless, I held my position in line.
There were a couple of standout presentations from those in line. The first came from a woman who had a list of issues to be addressed, and starting with why do we subsidize oil companies, and moving consecutively through every other issue that I had, found the crowd applauding her on each point. After five or six such points, she asked the crowd to reserve the applause until she finished, and quickly proceeded through another four or five points in a voice that demanded an honest response.
She did not get it. The Senator responded with his well-rehearsed talking points, offering nothing more.
She was followed by a few progressives and a lot of Fox News fans who were easily identified by their strong impressions and dearth of facts. Kirk's responses never wandered off the Republicanspeak reservation. For a moment, I entertained the notion that Frank Luntz might be crouching behind the podium pulling the Senator's string while he tried to yank ours.
The last person to speak was a man who held a place in line about three people ahead of where I stood. He introduced himself as a retired Marine officer and thanked the Senator for his military service, which drew an appreciative nod from the Sen. Kirk. Then he asked the Senator to justify support for cutting heating assistance to poor people when so much, if not all, of those savings were simply devoted to providing tax cuts for the top 2% of income collectors, resulting in zero net savings. The Senator feigned difficulty in understanding the question; to use up time until he could, at last, fall mute as the end of Q and A was announced.
I did, finally get a brief audience with the Senator after the event as he shook hands and posed for photographs with his admirers. As he turned to me when I was next I thanked him for staying so long to hear his constituents. This elicited a friendly smile.
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