“These disruptions (citizens speaking up at town hall meetings about health care reform) are occurring because opponents are afraid not just of differing views — but of the facts themselves. Drowning out opposing views is simply un-American.”–House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (for an interesting argument to the column quoted, click here).
Oddly enough, having opposing views, and listening to all sides of a debate is incredibly American, as witnessed by our own First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Speaker Pelosi’s language is strong and accusatory. It’s hard to argue that individual citizens, who come to town halls with fears and questions, are “drowning out” the opposition. What’s disturbing is how Pelosi, Obama and other government mouth-pieces are handling this dissent.
President Obama called the overwhelming response at town hall meetings “manufactured anger”. White House Spokesman Robert Gibbs said: “”I hope people will take a jaundiced eye to what is clearly the AstroTurf nature of so-called grass-roots lobbying.”
Manufactured anger? AstroTurf? These snarky statements feel like a character assassination, an unjust ridiculing of those who don’t agree with the President on this particular plan. No one likes to be told that their views don’t matter, or that the way they feel in unjustified and irrational. These are American citizens who deserve respect, whether you agree with their viewpoint or not.
Peggy Noonan made a great point in the Wall Street Journal: “People are not automatons. They show up only if they care. What the town-hall meetings represent is a feeling of rebellion, an uprising against change they do not believe in. And the Democratic response has been stunningly crude and aggressive. It has been to attack. Nancy Pelosi accused the people at the meetings of ‘carrying swastikas and symbols like that.’ (Apparently one protester held a hand-lettered sign with a “no” slash over a swastika.) But they are not Nazis, they’re Americans. Some of them looked like they’d actually spent some time fighting Nazis.”
Despite the overwhelming evidence that town hall-goers are peaceful Americans, the Democratic National Committee created an incendiary Web video whose script reads, “The right wing extremist Republican base is back, “ and calling citizens at town hall meetings an “angry mob”.
Want to meet this angry mob? They’re not any more scary than your friends and neighbors. At such meetings, civility and kindness is necessary, of course, and our elected officials deserve a certain level of respect. But when Americans – moms, dads, kids, Republicans, Democrats, Independents, those who didn’t care about politics until now and those who’ve always cared – exercise the right of the people to peaceably assemble, to speak out and address the government – the government, and those watching from the sidelines – need to listen.
No assumptions because of what we think protesters should wear, how they should talk or behave. No accusations because they don’t see the world the way we think they should. After all, the freedom to speak out is our First Amendment – and differences of opinion are fundamentally American.