Different Playbooks


I suppose I should count my blessings that my long vacation from teaching coincides with the congressional recesses, as it means that I can give myself a bit of a break from politics at the same time as I take a break from my primary employment. However, as has been made clear from today’s developments at town hall meetings across the nation, politics isn’t exactly taking a total holiday this month. (After all, August is the month without any holidays, at least by most Americans’ standards.) The disruptions at town halls, particularly those related to health care, provided what would have been a wonderful teaching moment if I had a class to teach. As it is, I have to file today’s events in my brain, and hope that at least some of my students for fall term were paying attention to the coverage of town halls as well.

In all the coverage of the disruptions at these town halls, only a few have bothered to mention that this is another Republican "astroturf" phony-grassroots movement, being bankrolled and coordinated by big business interests that also ran the teabagging movement earlier this year. None have pointed out, as I do in all of my classes, how American political discourse continues to degenerate to a point where most participants and observers believe that the winner of an argument isn’t the person who makes the most logical points, or engenders the most sympathy from the crowd, but who can shout the loudest. (I guess you could call it the Jerry Springer-ization of our culture.) Neither have any broadcasts I’ve seen compared this to the days of the Bush 43 presidency, when Bush’s "town halls" featured nothing but carefully-screened, pro-Bush audience members, and protestors at Bush events were forced into distant, screened-off "free speech zones," out of sight and out of mind of the news media and the general public.

This just underscores to me the difference between the Democrats and the Republicans; they’re playing with two entirely different playbooks when it comes to influencing public debate. Republicans have been able to use these guerilla-style tactics to take advantage of the comparative openness of Democratic-hosted town halls and similar events, while they close off their own similar events to opposition voices, to hardly a whisper of protest from Democrats. Being a fierce First Amendment advocate, of course I want to keep the public debate open to as many viewpoints as possible and to let those viewpoints have an equal chance of being heard, but at the same time I think there’s something to be said for engaging in civil behaviour whenever possible, and the obstructionists who have been disrupting these recent town hall meetings have hardly been civil. Worse yet, their agenda seems to be to prevent intelligent discourse, not add to it, and I find that kind of galling. At the very least, I think there should be a single playbook for all participants to follow, and Democrats’ reluctance or inability to engage these obstructionists at their own level once again speaks to the inherent spinelessness of the Democratic party. The health care debate is too important to be lost because Democrats don’t want to dirty the cuffs of their trousers by getting down in the mud with these obstructionists.

I hate having to openly advocate for left-leaning peoples to break codes of civility to deal with this astroturf movement that seeks to derail health care reform. Given what is at stake, though, and given the effectiveness of this movement so far, I don’t know that there is any other conscionable choice.

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