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opednews.com Headlined to H2 8/15/09

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I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by
madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn
looking for an angry fix ...
Allen Ginsberg

If you've ever wondered what lurks at the very bottom of the American political barrel, look no further than the scenes that have been playing out in health care town hall forums across the nation over the last couple of weeks. Members of Congress who favor President Obama's health care reform program returned to their districts to speak to their constituents about the details of the president's plan, and were greeted with howls, screams and shrieks from right-wing protesters bent on blowing the whole process to pieces.

No debate. No conversation between intelligent parties. Just yelling.

"House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sent her chamber home for the summer recess with a list of talking points to respond to constituents' questions about pending health care legislation," reported the San Francisco Chronicle last week. "But those traditionally sleepy town hall meetings have become rowdy shout-fests across the nation, including Northern California, with opponents hanging members in effigy and mocking them with Nazi and devil imagery in an effort to derail discussions of health care. They're organized in part by conservative think tanks like FreedomWorks, which offers tips on how to disrupt a meeting ('Watch for an opportunity to yell out and challenge the Rep's statements early,' says one) and helped in some cases by anti-tax 'Tea Party' sympathizers. More than 500 people packed a Napa town hall hosted this week by Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, some shouting down panelists by yelling 'This is America!' and 'What's wrong with profit?'"

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"Repeated heckling and shouted interruptions - 'Answer the question!' 'We're your employers!' 'You don't get it!' - overtook a town hall-style meeting in rural Maryland this week," reported the Boston Globe, "as US Representative Frank M. Kratovil Jr. withstood a verbal beating from a partisan crowd airing its displeasure with the health care overhaul working its way through Congress. Scenes like this are playing out across America. As Congress returns home for its summer break, conservative activists are packing community halls and school cafeterias to protest the health care legislation, hoping to derail President Obama's top domestic priority. In Texas, Representative Lloyd Doggett was confronted by a crowd chanting 'Just say no!' In Philadelphia, protesters shouted at Senator Arlen Specter and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius."

"Rep. Brad Miller (D-North Carolina) will not be hosting any town hall events this August - instead, he's making himself available to constituents for one-on-one meetings about health care reform - and at least part of the reason is this: His offices have received threatening phone calls, including at least one direct threat against his life," reported Talking Points Memo. "'We had no town hall events scheduled for the August recess anyway, but in light of everything that's happened - we have received a threatening phone call in the D.C. office, there have been calls to the Raleigh office,' said Miller communications director LuAnn Canipe, in an interview with TPM. The threatening call in question happened earlier this week."

Death threats, bellowing disruptions, a few brawls here and there, and for all intents and purposes, an important national debate between political leaders and the public was shredded by right-wing activists - many of whom don't have health insurance - who shouted themselves hoarse because they don't like the president. These "protesters" have been filled with a bewildering budget of lies and misinformation by the organizers behind these protests, and by national Republican leaders who seem to think derailing health care reform will win them some elections, and be damned to the people themselves.

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In the short term, the tactic appears to be working. A recent USA Today/Gallup Poll seems to indicate support for the protesters has been solidified by their yowling mess-making. "The raucous protests at congressional town-hall-style meetings have succeeded in fueling opposition to proposed health care bills among some Americans," reported USA Today, "particularly among the independents who tend to be at the center of political debates. In a survey of 1,000 adults taken Tuesday, 34% say demonstrations at the hometown sessions have made them more sympathetic to the protesters' views; 21% say they are less sympathetic. Independents by 2-to-1, 35%-16%, say they are more sympathetic to the protesters now. The findings are unwelcome news for President Obama and Democratic congressional leaders, who have scrambled to respond to the protests and in some cases even to be heard."

This is what has become of the Republican Party in the 21st century. Those Gallup numbers appear on the surface to indicate the "protests" are having a positive effect for the GOP, but dig a little deeper and a different picture emerges: a solidifying of support among people who already support the Republicans. In other words, the GOP is once again rushing into the demented embrace of their base instead of trying to broaden their appeal.

The Republican Party is shrinking, and screaming as it does so. If these town hall "protests" are any indication, what we have is a GOP so demonstrably starved of ideas that all they have left is howling disruption and mindless noise. It may be effective in the short term, but it is yet another indication that the Republicans have little to offer the nation except sound, and fury, and nothing.

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William Rivers Pitt is a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of two books: War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know and The Greatest Sedition Is Silence.

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