Last night, AC 360 featured a report by CNN's Gary Tuchman from a health care town hall meeting held that day by Rep. Steve Rothman (D-NJ), who faced a large, hostile crowd for three hours in North Arlington, NJ. After the meeting, Tuchman gathered a group of presumably representative attendees together and asked them why they thought all the "yelling and screaming" was necessary:
You'll notice that during the interview, CNN displays a graphic that should have thrown up a red flag for Tuchman: One of the town hall protestors – who says the "yelling and screaming" is necessary because "If you were about to be hit by a bus and didn't see it coming would you like me to yell and get your attention?" – is captioned "Valley Stream, NY."
Valley Stream is in Nassau County, between 52 minutes and two and a half hours away from North Arlington, NJ, depending on the traffic (and trust me, there's always traffic).
And yet, Tuchman had no questions for the man about how he happened to end up in a town meeting for a different congressman in a different state. Because it's not like there's a wide-ranging campaign by national conservative organizations to pack Democratic town halls with protestors who oppose health care reform.
On Sunday, I noted a new Gallup poll that provides further evidence that the May Gallup poll showing a significant spike in the percentage of people who self-identify as "pro-life" was an outlier. (To be clear, it was always obvious from looking at the poll that it was an outlier and should not be taken particularly seriously. The new Gallup poll is just the icing on the cake.)
Today, Steve Benen rounds up some of the other reaction to the new Gallup poll, and takes a look at which of the two polls got more media attention. You'll have to check out Benen's post for the results, but here's a hint: the "liberal" media has a strong track record of privileging opposition to abortion.
Say you're Washington Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt, and you're looking for a column that will help people understand the health care debate. You could chose one that makes clear that health care reform does not involve, as Sarah Palin mendaciously claims, "death panels" that convene to kill children and the elderly. But that would be boring! So you run this, instead:
The issue here is not that these citizens consider Obama untrustworthy -- though they do. The issue, rather, is that they recognize that the stated goals and structure of a policy may not fully capture its full range of outcomes in practice. This is why these citizens, including professionally briefed participants such as Sarah Palin, can continue to maintain, in the face of a barrage of insistences to the contrary, that the reforms will (1) result in rationing and (2) establish "death panels."
Check out that framing: people who believe health care reform will "establish 'death panels'" are "professionally briefed," while those who point out that no such thing will happen and no such thing is contained in any proposed legislation are merely offering a "barrage of insistences." Way to stack the deck in favor of the crazy and false position.
More from Danielle Allen's op-ed:
These activists do not claim that the proposed reforms include policies whose explicit purpose is to ration, nor do the more careful among them claim that the policies will establish panels to help people decide when to die. They are not arguing about the semantic content of the policies; that is, they are not arguing about the meaning of the words that are actually in the relevant drafts of bills. Instead, they are considering, as the pragmatist philosopher William James put it, "what conceivable effects of a practical kind the [policy] may involve -- what sensations we are to expect from it, and what reactions we must prepare."
In asking lawmakers to consider not merely the goals of their policies but also the experiential meaning of concrete realities that those policies may bring, they have a point. One can't answer them by saying: "These policies won't ration; there will be no death panels." If these reforms do either of these things, they will do so as a matter of unintended consequences.
Nonsense. Utter, complete, contemptible nonsense. Plausible unintended consequences should surely be considered. But implausible, never-going-to-happen, absurd unintended consequences need not be. Sure, the government could theoretically eventually create "death panels" that order three-year-olds and grandparents put to death. And a race of super-human alien-dinosaur hybrids from the planet Zolog could theoretically become angered by the adoption of a public plan and blow up Earth in a fit of rage.
Hmmm. If I can stretch that last sentence into an 800 word defense of irresponsible fear-mongering, Fred Hiatt will probably put it in Thursday's Washington Post ...
UPDATE: Speaking of enabling the spread of crazy nonsense, Josh Marshall catches the New York Times calling the false claims about "death panels" "questionable but potentially damaging charges."
Oh, the claims are "questionable," are they? That's a relief! I thought the "death panels" were a certainty. Sure is great the New York Times is here to set the record straight and make clear that they are only a possibility!
From Niall Ferguson's August 10 Financial Times column:
This is definitely going to be a thing today, with President Obama hosting a town hall meeting in New Hampshire to discuss health care reform. The chatter has already begun about whether the GOP mini-mobs will show up outside or even inside and try to disrupt the events.
Obviously the mini-mobs have been in the news as they turn town hall gatherings into shrieking free-for-alls. But those have been at events sponsored by members of Congress. Obama's, of course, will be a POTUS forum, complete with a Secret Service detail, among other key differences. Just keep that in mind.
Now, to Todd [emphasis added]:
Pres. Obama holds his OWN town hall in New Hampshire this Tuesday where the issues of the economy and health care are likely to be the dominant issues. Of course, what many will be watching is to see if this town hall invites the same passion as we've witnessed at town halls for members of Congress this last week...
And as much as some might want to believe the White House will be staging the questions, don't believe that hype. The White House knows the political price for being caught doing that is MUCH higher than having to deal with a confrontation or two at the meeting itself. If anything, I'd bet some inside the White House are hoping for a confrontation since they believe the president's demeanor alone will politically play well with the folks the White House cares most about right now, ACTUAL independents.
With that, Todd helps set the perimeters of the debate: Will the White House basically censor citizens from protesting inside town hall forums? Todd says no way because the political fall-out would be "MUCH higher" than having to deal with the confrontations. Meaning, Obama would catch holy hell if word got out that the White House tried to keep the mini-mobs out; if the White House tried to pick and choose who got into the NH town hall.
Because in case Todd forgot, back in 2005 when President Bush held town hall forums to push his failed idea to privatize Social Security, it was an open secret that only Bush supporters were allowed into the events. In fact, in one celebrated instance, three Denver liberals were physically removed from a Bush town hall. Their infraction? Arriving at the event in a car that had a "No More Blood For Oil" bumper sticker on the back.
Even Foxnews.com took note of the White House's heavy head:
The unceremonious ouster of three people from a recent White House Social Security event in Colorado has critics wondering how far President Bush will go to ensure friendly, sympathetic audiences at his town hall-style forums and rallies.
And Fox News' Chris Wallace has also conceded that, "in the Bush administration, George W. Bush, they had a lot of these town hall meetings, and they chose all the people there. So everybody has always tried to get a home-court advantage."
So as the Obama town hall forum story unfolds, let's keep in mind the words of former Bush White House spokesman Scott McClellan who defended the practice of removing Bush critics from town hall-style events:
If someone is coming to try to disrupt it, then obviously that person would be asked to leave. There is plenty of opportunity outside of the event to express their views.
Politico reports that Philadelphia Inquirer columnist and former Republican Senator Rick Santorum has written a fundraising email for the RNC – which was sent to the Washington Times' subscriber list. In the email – addressed "Dear Fellow Conservative" – Santorum waxes sentimental about how "a great tide of conservative Republicans swept to victory in races all across America," and claims that "we are facing a very similar opportunity today."
This follows fundraising emails sent to the Times' list on behalf of House Republican Leader John Boehner and the right-wing Judicial Confirmation Network. Perhaps John Solomon's promise that the Washington Times would maintain a "neutral, civil voice" kicks in next month?
Malkin, who spent the Bush years denouncing active Bush critics as demented "Moonbats," is now online's head cheerleader for the health care min-mobs. Suddenly, political protest isn't treasonous or unhinged, it's democratic and much-needed.
When I first noted Malkin's rather obvious double standard she responded by claiming she only called out violent liberal Bush haters. And that the town hall mini-mobs weren't made up of violent people. Just deeply concerned citizens.
Right, and tell that to Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA) whose office recently received an Obama death threat via fax. (See below.) Greg Sargent has the details.
Malkin must be furious with these right-wing Moonbats, right? Right?
Oh, boy. Now Newsbusters' Brent Baker is upset that former CNN reporter Bob Franken describes disruptive protesters who hang a congressman in effigy as "a crazed group of people" and a "mob."
The one from late last week in which Pearlstein penned a surprisingly frank column about the health care 'debate,' and called the town hall mini-mob members "political terrorists," and detailed the blatant lies Republicans were spread about Obama's health care push.
The column ("Republicans Propagating Falsehoods in Attacks on Health-Care Reform") raised lots of eyebrows and was widely cheered by liberals as being a rare example of a Beltway pundit who hit back hard and didn't hide behind a phony both-sides-do-it framework. Pearlstein clearly and unequivocally called out the right-wing misinformation and intimidation. And for that, he deserves credit.
But I thought there was a gaping hole in Pearlstein's otherwise excellent column, especially when reading passages like this [emphasis added]:
The recent attacks by Republican leaders and their ideological fellow-travelers on the effort to reform the health-care system have been so misleading, so disingenuous, that they could only spring from a cynical effort to gain partisan political advantage. By poisoning the political well, they've given up any pretense of being the loyal opposition. They've become political terrorists, willing to say or do anything to prevent the country from reaching a consensus on one of its most serious domestic problems.
Who does Pearlstein have in mind when he refers to the "fellow-travelers"? I suspect it's members of the GOP Noise Machine, which has been amplifying the the health care attacks launched by Republican leaders. I suspect he's referring to Fox News, which in recent weeks has transformed itself into a misinformation clearing house on health care. My guess is that Pearlstein has people like Rush Limbaugh in mind, who's being doing his best to make sure listeners have no idea what today's health care reform is actually about, and instead simply unleash their hatred for the federal government.
I'm guessing that's who Pearlstein's referring to, but I don't know for sure because Pearlstein never spells it out. Because in his otherwise excellent and insightful column, Pearlstein never explains who the "fellow travelers" are and never once makes reference to any members of the right-wing media who have fueled today's "political terrorists."
I'm sorry, but if "Republican leaders" waged "attacks" on health care reform and there wasn't an irresponsible GOP Noise Machine to propagate the attacks, nobody would care what the GOP thought, simply because most Republicans today, by being such a small minority in Congress, are essentially powerless to impact the legislative process. The Republicans' only true source of power is the hate and rampant misinformation spread by right-wing media.
In other words, the right-wing media are the story here. At least a big portion of it in terms of the health care 'debate.' Yet the Beltway press continues to look away and play nice and refuse to single out offenders for deserved ridicule. And people like Pearlstein write columns that seem to dance around the obvious; columns that refuse to call out the real villains in the misinformation movement.