Are town hall protests un-American?

 

“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.

Be First to Comment

  1. PatricksPlace said:

    Your first paragraph is right on, Dani. However, I respectfully submit a few pertinent points: 1. No matter how many people are there because they genuinely care about health care reform itself, there are those who are so blinded to their party’s side that anything proposed by the other side MUST be bad. These are not people who are there because they care about the TOPIC: they only care about winning the political game-playing, and there’s something very un-American about that. 2. Take another look at Pelosi’s comment: note that she talks about people “DISRUPTING” a town hall meeting, not just displaying a different point of view. It’s fine to disagree with someone else’s points, but when you DISRUPT them, it’s fairly clear that you’ve stopped listening. 3. There’s a big difference between asking questions and shouting talking points. There are people who don’t care about other people’s health care but who only want to out-shout someone they disagree with. That’s not being respectful, that’s not listening to ideas, that’s not trying to compassionately communicate a clear, important message. And, with all due respect, it doesn’t sound particularly Christian, either.

    August 13, 2009
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  2. said:

    PatricksPlace – Thanks for your thoughtful response, and I actually completely agree with you. The thing is, most of the footage I’ve seen and accounts I’ve heard seem to show that our representatives are those who are not willing to listen, and seem to want to “drown out” opposition. I’m not a Bush fan by any means, but when he was asked about Cindy Sheehan and her protestors outside his ranch, he replied, “I understand her pain. She lost her son. This is the great thing about America, that she can come right to my ranch and tell me.” Contrast that to the character assassination that is happening to many concerned citizens now, and I think it’s understandable that many are upset. Should we be kind, courteous and Christian in all of our words and actions, even if emotional? Absolutely. But even those just asking for answers are often given the run-around and accused of disruption. Please understand, I am not condoning violence or assuming that I know what each Town Hall goer’s motivations are. But to me, this demoralizing of those to whom our government is supposed to be listening to is a disturbing trend. While it’s a hard line to walk, I think that all people, citizens and those in government, need to take a close look at how we’re handling those who don’t agree. (As a side note, much of this “drowning out” happened to these same people back in April: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6G3fvNhdoc0 and now even more folks have begun to speak up: http://www.thefoxnation.com/politics/2009/08/10/watch-exclusive-interview

    August 13, 2009
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  3. DeltaFour said:

    Good post, Dani… With regard to PatricksPlace and the comments presented, it appears they represent a uncalled for bias. First, without having the God-like characteristic of omniscience, none of us can begin to know why people are showing up. To assume that they show up to “win the political game-playing” or that they show up because they “don’t really care” is a leaky bucket. I would venture that the only reason someone would make the effort to suffer through one of these sessions is because they DO care. Be careful here, I’m not telling you what they actually care about, only that they care. If you want to know what they care about you’ll have to question them directly. We cannot make meaningless inferences. Second, If I were to refer to PatricksPlace’s use of the uppercase “DISRUPTING” (in his discussion) as uncivil, disrespectful, harsh and grating, would that represent an accurate assessment of the conversation? No, but only for those of us here, who are reading Dani’s Blog. For anyone else who might catch my reference (through some secondary means), they might believe one, or the other, but, probably not both. That is the nature of freedom, we have the God-given responsibility to use wisdom to weigh the facts and make our best assessment given the information at our fingertips. The anger that is surfacing stems from the frustration associated with a Congress that is dismissive. How can we expect Americans to not become frustrated if their views, comments and concerns are ignored? How can we expect valuable contributions if those who choose to contribute are marginalized simply because they disagree? Are Christians willing to be treated as deranged simpletons (who don’t really care), when they voice disagreements with any specific cultural phenomenon?

    August 13, 2009
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  4. PatricksPlace said:

    Dani, I agree with you that everyone should be treated with respect and that no one should be grouped into an “enemy camp” just because they have questions or concerns. I suppose we may have to agree to disagree on whether Pelosi was referring to everyone with “concerns” about health care or only those who seem to want to stop the discussion entirely. Delta Four, I’m truly amazed that you can read what I wrote and believe that mine is the “uncalled-for bias.” Nowhere did I suggest, even jokingly, that everyone who bothers to show up is engaging in political game-playing. What I said was that there are people involved in this debate who aren’t interested in anything other than drowning out the opposing view. Period. That’s true of every major political issue. I need not know the true intention of every shouter at a town hall meeting to know that there are people who are only interested in the political “win.” We see it year after year. Your point about my capitalization of the word “disrupting” and the unfairness of any resulting sweeping generalization it might unreasonably inspire actually falls exactly in line with one of the points I was making: of course it’s wrong to assume I’m trying to be “uncivil, disrespectful,” etc. (For the record, I wasn’t certain if HTML coding that would have made the word appear italicized would work on this blog, so I took a chance and capitalized for emphasis instead.) You’re quite right to point out that it would be completely unfair to believe that the single word (or its typographical styling) would be indicative of someone who was trying to pick a fight. However, I submit that when we look at Pelosi’s quote about “disruptions” and conclude that she must mean anyone who shows up to ask a question or raise what they feel is a legitimate concern, or even anyone who doesn’t agree with the plan itself, we’re being a little unfair there, too. It seems to me that if we’re going to put this much focus on Pelosi’s use of that word, we should consider what that word means. Asking questions in a polite — or even in a passionate — manner, at a town hall meeting, isn’t a disruption. It’s what you’re supposed to do. That’s sort of the point of a town hall meeting. Disagreeing with someone’s point of view in the world of politics isn’t a disruption. It’s what politics are all about. Stopping a meeting to shout at the top of your lungs to cut off the dialog, threaten physical violence or cause a scene does not advance the discussion. That kind of behavior is, by any reasonable definition, a disruption. I agree with you that there’s frustration and anger from people because of lawmakers that they feel are not listening. But I also respectfully submit that in a two-party system, someone is always going to feel like they’re being ignored because they happen to be on the opposite side of a popular position. That, unfortunately, is part of the reality of our political system; if everyone agreed on everything, there’d be only one party. And it’s almost impossible for an elected official to please everyone. Frankly, your last question troubles me a bit. Are you suggesting that everyone who has, by my definition above, “disrupted” these meetings are specifically Christian? You can’t possibly know that without that same “God-like characteristic of omniscience” you referred to in your comment. How is it, exactly, that it’s the Christians who are being treated as deranged simpletons who don’t really care in this debate? Who says all Christians oppose health care reform? Who says all Christians disagree with what’s being said at the town hall meetings? And more importantly, who says that being a Christian can only mean that your ability to voice disagreement with “any specific cultural phenomenon,” whatever that means, requires causing a “disruption” versus expressing your points in a manner that treats those with whom you disagree the same way you’d hope those who disagree with your position would treat you?

    August 14, 2009
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  5. DeltaFour said:

    FYI – My last comment – “Are Christians willing to be treated as deranged simpletons (who don’t really care), when they voice disagreements with any specific cultural phenomenon?” should have been in a new paragraph. This is a Christian Blog site, No? My thought was an attempt to get out of politics and deal with Christian responses as a whole. I was not claiming omniscience, but my question applies generally. All of your right, wrong, civil verses disruptive, etc., comments (along with my own) originate from a moral perspective. My question is where do the higher qualities of moral conduct originate? Where do these morals come from? The idea that society develops moral consciousness is completely contrary to Biblical teaching. God has developed specific moral guidelines for us to follow. That is our dominion and specific charter. A society will impart its own self-serving interests and it is our responsibility to help shape those interests. Therefore, yes, I think every Christian ought to care about a thriving society and how this Obama health plan will harm, or help achieve that goal.

    August 14, 2009
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  6. PatricksPlace said:

    “I think every Christian ought to care about a thriving society and how this Obama health plan will harm, or help achieve that goal.” I agree with you on that, but that wasn’t my question at all. I was questioning along the lines of whether you believe that Christians — more so than just people in general who may or may not be Christian — are being specifically targeted here? It isn’t true that all Christians always side with the GOP, and it isn’t true that all Christians automatically believe that Obama’s health care plan is a harmful one compared to what we have now. I think, therefore, that it is that much more necessary that we as Christians enter into a debate with compassion and not behave in a way that compromises our testimony. That is to say, in all things we do, even in dealing with disagreement, we should behave in a way that demonstrates to others that we are Christian. That’s not what the behavior of certain people would seem to indicate.

    August 15, 2009
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  7. altfreq11 said:

    Dani Nichols said: “The thing is, most of the footage I’ve seen and accounts I’ve heard seem to show that our representatives are those who are not willing to listen, and seem to want to “drown out” opposition.” Dani, do you have any proof of this?

    August 20, 2009
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