TCS Daily

Town Hells?

By James K. Glassman - August 9, 2009 12:00 AM

"Town halls have become town hells," says Mark McKinnon, a former adviser to President Bush who supported Barack Obama in the November election. He was referring, of course, to contentious meetings between members of Congress and constituents on the subject of changes to America's healthcare system. McKinnon, who used to serve with me on the Broadcasting Board of Governors, knows how to turn a phrase. But deep concern about the government's healthcare activity is nothing new, and politicians who believe that the opposition to the Democrats' plan is a put-up job are deceiving themselves and imperiling their own careers.

Such self-deception abounds. Paul Krugman, a cheerleader for the House healthcare reform package, recently wrote in the New York Times: "I can't find any examples of congressmen shouted down, congressmen hanged in effigy, congressmen surrounded and followed by taunting crowds." The responses, he wrote, are "something new and ugly."

Actually, they aren't new at all, and, in ugliness, it is hard to match an incident that occurred almost precisely 20 years ago.

The chairman of the Ways and Means Committee was accosted by constituents angry about the passage of the Catastrophic Coverage Act, which expanded Medicare benefits and funded the change with a supplemental tax.

The Chicago Tribune reported on Aug. 19, 1989:

"Congressman Dan Rostenkowski, one of the most powerful politicians in the United States, was booed and chased down a Chicago street Thursday morning by a group of senior citizens after he refused to talk with them about federal health insurance. Shouting 'Coward,' 'Recall' and 'Impeach,' about 50 people followed the chairman of the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee up Milwaukee Avenue after he left a meeting in the auditorium of the Copernicus Center, 3106 N. Milwaukee Ave., in the heart of his 8th Congressional District on the city's Northwest Side.

"Eventually, the 6-foot-4-inch Rostenkowski cut through a gas station, broke into a sprint and escaped into his car, which minutes earlier had one of the elderly protesters, Leona Kozien, draped over the hood. Kozien, one of more than 100 senior citizens who attended the gathering, said she had hoped to talk to Rostenkowski, her congressman, at the meeting.

"But Rostenkowski clearly did not want to talk with her, or any of the others who had come to tell their complaints about the high cost of federal catastrophic health insurance. 'These people don't understand what the government is trying to do for them,' the 61-year-old congressman complained as he tried to outpace his pursuers."

In fact, writes Stephen Bainbridge, "I think they understood too well." I am indebted to Bainbridge, the UCLA law professor who writes the blog, for digging up the Tribune clipping (by the way, Krugman should also note that the story was covered by the New York Times in 1989 as well) and reminding people today of the anger directed against Rostenkowski and his colleagues at the time.

David Hyman, on the excellent Volokh Conspiracy blog, points out a nice bit of irony: The leader of the protest against Rostenkowski was "Jan Schakowsky - then Director of the Illinois State Council of Senior Citizens - and currently Democratic representative from the Ninth Congressional District of Illinois, and chief deputy whip to Majority Leader Pelosi." (Schakowsky's boss, Pelosi, has been denigrating the Town Hall protests as emanating from "Astroturf" rather than genuine "grassroots" concern. )

I remember the anger 20 years ago. I was running Roll Call, the congressional newspaper, at the time. President Reagan signed the Catastrophic Coverage bill into law in July 1988, and Congress repealed it in November 1989. Six years later, Richard Himmelfarb an entire book on the subject, Catastrophic Politics. He described in detail how seniors "angrily confronted lawmakers on their trips home."

Nor is the concept of organizations getting people out to Town Hall meetings something new. Democrats used trade unions this way to help defeat President Bush's effort to reform Social Security and stave off the system's insolvency. As Steven Greenhouse reported in the New York Times on April 1, 2005:

"The nation's labor unions stepped up their campaign yesterday to stop President Bush's Social Security plan, staging demonstrations in New York, Washington, San Francisco and 70 other cities. The protests are part of a huge effort that labor has mounted, packing congressmen's town meetings with union members, pressuring investment firms to stop backing Mr. Bush's proposal and collecting tens of thousands of signatures to denounce his call for personal Social Security investment accounts."

The truth is that the uproar over the lack of decorum at some of today's Town Hall meetings is a sideshow. President Obama and many Democrats in Congress are trying to push changes in healthcare that Americans, quite simply, do not want. People are skeptical of plans that will vastly increase government spending at a time of record budget deficits — and they fear losing what they prize most: the ability to choose their own doctors and not suffer the kind of rationing that plagues European and Canadian systems. In addition, judging from history, they think that further government intervention will raise costs.

On July 31, the Gallup Organization summarized the findings of its recent polls on the subject:

  • "Although the majority of Americans believe the U.S. healthcare system has major problems, less than 20% perceive that the U.S. healthcare system is in a state of crisis. This has not shifted significantly in 15 years."

  • "Americans are not convinced that healthcare reform will benefit them personally. This is, in part, because most Americans are satisfied with their current medical care and access to healthcare. Seniors in particular are not convinced that healthcare reform will benefit them."

  • While Americans are overwhelmingly dissatisfied with the cost of healthcare, they don't see reform as lowering costs. Some 45 percent believe healthcare costs will rise overall with a new healthcare reform law, compared to 30 percent who believe costs will fall.

  • "The push for healthcare reform is occurring in an environment characterized by high levels of concern about fiscal responsibility, government spending, and the growing federal deficit."

Gallup concludes: "Americans also appear dubious about the benefits of what they perceive to be less-than-fully-informed representatives in Washington rushing into a new healthcare reform law when the need for such legislation is not the highest on the public's agenda."

Polling shows clearly that Americans want to wait before passing healthcare reform, but, as time goes by, it will become harder for Congress to pass a bill with major changes - in part because Americans are learning what is actually in the bill.

One example that I have cited lately is a measure, which has cleared a Senate committee, that would give drug companies exclusivity on biologic medicines - preventing any generic competition for 12 years beyond the life of patents on drugs developed using biotech methods. Competition would reduce drug costs, but an extended monopoly is the price that many members of Congress seem willing to pay in order to get pharmaceutical companies to support their overall healthcare plan.

Another example - defeated, at least temporarily - was a provision that would have opened the door to massive Medicare lawsuits, to the immense benefit of trial lawyers, an important Democratic constituency (this issue is called Medicare Secondary Payer). Who knows what further evil lurks in the heart of the 800-page bill?

The lesson of the Town Hall meetings — which so obsess the media — is not that Americans are ill-mannered (though some are) but that they seriously doubt that the sweeping changes will improve healthcare and lower costs. If the President wants reform, he will have to address the public's utterly appropriate concerns. So far, he hasn't.

This article first appeared on


If you want to know what Liberals are really up to...
...just listen to the accusations they levy against Conservatives.

Where's our new-found trolls today?

dissent is the highest form of patriotism
at least until Republicans are the dissenters, then according to Pelosi and Hoyer, it becomes un-American.

Recall the Amnesty protests?
The Senate switchboard was shutdown and the Senators were scared.
Show your representatives you care and if they are up for re-election, they may take notice.
Except for some districts in MA and, of course for Kennedy and Kerry. They don't care what we think.

A 'tad'?.....:)
Say, where are MissyPooh and EmZola? Things livened up a bit around here with them. They only read the last article?

If you want to know what Conservatives are really up to...
...just listen to the accusations they levy against Liberals.

I'm inside you, I'm you. Sad but true.

how about rudeness, shouting down, trying to shut down...
a meeting of many people who are there to ask questions and hear what their elected representative has to say to their tough questions? Is that patriotism too?

Drunk on their own fear is what they are.

domino, motha f'er!
Oh, those were the days. I camped out for Terri Schiavo too, we had only 2 bottles of water for 6 people for a whole day. The cops were staring at us, the cameras were all over the place. They brought in the national guard man. We had their attention. Never again will a husband make an end of life decision for his wife, not as long as the government has anything to do with it. Those were the days.

boy scouts are one thing
You have to admit these people at town halls are a tad unhinged. What happened to making a statement and asking a tough, emotional question of the representative? These people at town halls suffer a disservice from right wing people in the media, like Glassman, who perpetuate exaggerations and outright falsehoods about a potential reform.
1 There is no bill yet, not even close!
2 Palin "death panels". Really? Think that scares or confuses anyone?
3 Required euthenasia meetings? Really? The text in one of the bills that covers this aspect is right there to see, we know the truth.
4 Government beauracrats making your health decisions for you? Thats in there too? Actually, whats in there is a public option part, a part that creates a government run health insurance option. As time goes on its looking less and less likely it will make it through, but at least I can respect a debate about it. Its tough to debate it when one party shouts the other down and shouts about these other riduculous fabrications.

Thats just four off the top of my head. The cacophony is dizzying.

Yeah, the Democrats are being hypocritical. They're politicians, thats the easy part. Republicans are trying to orchestrate a partisan political advantage with one of our most serious domestic problems. I can't believe these town hall people act like that in public. If their concerns were based on facts, its more understandable. But they are clearly misinformed, scared shiitless, and completely ignorant of the details and the process.

Liberals understand sheeple
Liberals like Pelosi can't understand that individual citizens can take it upon themselves to drive themselves to meetings, contact their representatives on their own, and express their own frustration all without being led by the nose by some community organization like ACORN or a union. Hence the accusations of astro turf and such.

How about the rudness of Congress ignoring their voters?
Many members of Congress are hiding behind Obama and afraid to face those that put them in office.
What are they afraid of?

How many Republican Congressmen are afraid of having town hall?
I don't even hear of unions busting in on Republican congress folks and shouting them down for their opposition to Obama?
Why not?

for a joke to be funny, there has to be a grain of truth
like all of your comments, there is no truth there.

Everything the liberals accused Bush of doing, he was innocent of. Everything the liberals accused Bush of doing, they are now doing.

Liberals claimed that Republicans called them un-patriotic over their opposition to the Gulf war. It never happened. It was a lie.
On the other hand liberals are now calling those who oppose Obama un-patriotic.

And that's just one example.

What's wrong with demanding a politican answer a question?
The politicians in question tried to dodge the questions being asked, and the crowd wouldn't let them.

Nothing wrong with that. Unless you are one of the people who have something to hide.

Sounds like bob is channeling almost any speech given by a conservative over the last 40 years
I can name dozens of occassions when speeches had to be canceled because liberals wouldn't shut up long enough for anyone else to be heard.

Of course bob has no problem with that.

bob defines opposition to govt as being unhinged
I haven't seen any activity that even comes close to "unhinged". I haven't seen any activity that comes close to what conservative speakers have come to expect over the last 40 years.

1) There are several bills, the details of which can be read by anyone who cares to take the effort. Which bob won't.
2) Death panels might be a bit melodramatic, but it accurately describes what the panels do. They decide who is worth saving and who is going to be allowed to die.
3) It's not required, but the doctor will be penalized if he doesn't.
4) The public option plan is designed specifically to drive all private insurers out of business. That's in there too, for those who care too look. Which bob doesn't.

How many more lies will you try to pass off before this thread ages off?

from now on he won't have to, the govt will do it for him
and way sooner, so she won't waste as much govt money.

And the latest hypocrisy is about toxic dump cleaning; Obama is slated to do much less than Bush

Roy and Bob Jones never get it either, so why should the New Trolls?

Did you go the Obama School of Lying and Disinformation, Bob?
The Bill that the questioners were referencing had all of those things either directly mentioned, or alluded to within it.

I suppose next you'll try to say it isn't a back door method to single-payer health enslavement, too.

Yeah, and was the Rodney King Moment of the Left covered by ABCNBCCBSCNNPravda?
No. Only youtube and FOXNews showed it to people. Amazing!

Looks like my parents wasted their money on legal fees to set up a Living Trust...
..for my brother to decide whether or not to pull the plug, if necessary. See, under Obama Nazi Care, the doc will tell my brother: "Sorry, I have to call a bureaucrat. You don't make that decision."

"Hello? Is this the Death Panel Board of Proving Bob Jones is full of it?"

"Yes, it is."

"With whom am I speaking with?"

"Peggy Joseph, Death Panel Employee #122-B13333452-QT"

"Wait, are you THE Peggy Joseph...the one on youtube saying how Obama would pay your mortgage and for your car?"

"Yes, I am. Instead, he gave me a job in the federal government...and 60% of my paycheck goes to union political action funding and to train thugs to beat the crap out of old people. Not what I was expecting, but The One has been good to me."

"Well, I have someone here who says he has legal authority to decide if my patient should be end-of-lifed."

"Is the patient white?"


"Good for them, because under White House Eugenics Directive #9890843905823408534950839-45834058, white people automatically get the plug pulled in order to make our nation's demographic situation 'more equal'. But because the patient isn't white, we have to go through a series of questions to determine end-of-life resolution..."

"How many questions?"

"Well, other than the ones I get to just pull out of my ass for the hell of it, about 1,456 or so..."

Torture studies
Reminds me of studies done to show how people will torture others when ordered.

Sleeping Giant
The good sense, reason, and independent spirit of the American people, as exemplified in your own words, will overcome (eventually) any bureaucratic attempts at socialism. I wonder if Dr. Dean (looking a little peaked, lately) would want the "options" that are proposed for him under Obamacare? There are, as you say, a multitude of stalking horses in this sloppy, Rube Goldberg bill.

21st amendment
Another example of how people can come to their senses.

but, you don't offer a grain of truth, and you're hilarious
"Everything the liberals accused Bush of doing, he was innocent of. Everything the liberals accused Bush of doing, they are now doing."

Thats exactly right. Exactly like how God is everywhere, all the time, and knows Everything.

Political terrorists aren't unpatriotic, they're dangerous kooks. And its getting scarier, they're bringing guns with them now.

Thats very disappointing
I didn't read the article, I'll take your word NeaRNoaD. Its not consistent with Obama's views, so I'd guess they're using the excuse of the economy and they're already putting us in debt so bad they're freezing activity on the toxic dump cleaning. Its hardly a top tier issue at this point in time.

I get it, I just think its bubkus

"...if you take away money from the wealthy, that they're not going to be able to invest in businesses, hire employees, etc."

So are you saying the wealthy won't be wealthy anymore if they pay higher taxes? They will you know, still be able to invest in businesses and hire employees, etc. And if that wealth taken away from them serves to benefit the majority of people, who are not as wealthy by American standards, there will be more people who are able to consume the products/services of said wealthy person, in turn providing more wealth to be used to invest in businesses and hire employees, etc.

You've never been hired by a poor person. Have you ever seen a wealthy person become poor solely because of taxes?

The wealthy are already wealthy! If a potential for a market exists, the sharks will go after it. When you just constantly give the sharks more and more chum for their meals they will lose their ability to hunt. Why would they hunt? They can just get handouts from the government to fund their endeavors.

A question for you Joanie. Are you a corporatist? Bush was a huge corporatist. Small business owners didn't get carp from Bush, it was all about corporations and executives, bankers and capital dividend earners. Or are you one thinks the focus should on those in the $50k to $250k income range? The real business owners. You seem like a corportist.

I have one question
Are you guys in a leadership role for your ideology? Are you part of the "talking heads", the ones coming up with and spreading faith. Or, are you the masons, the workers, the followers who only take their views and cues from the "talking heads" class.

I think your organization operates as sort of a network, versus a hierarchy. But there is a definite divide between those who are informed and choose to use that knowledge to influence the commoners, versus the commoners who are blissfully ignorant and depend on the emotion and outrage of the talking heads to reinforce their biases and fear.

Which role are you guys? You seem informed, except marjon, but you still have no awareness of key realities.

To be sure, none of you should be taken seriously. But you make for good tv. The media loves you. Just wait til you shoot someone, the ratings will be huge!

Whats good about a public option, is, if we do go down the road to single-payer, it will be the market that determines the path, most importantly because the choice is available.

Your argument is so disingenuous. We, the taxpayers, already pay huge amounts of money for the medical care of people without insurance! Unless you're willing to proclaim that uninsured people who can't pay their medical bills must go without medical care, your argument is based on a false pretense.

Thats good stuff
The scary DEATH PANEL.

You're thinking small Z. Black people should automoatically get the plug pulled too, when they are registered Republican. oh, snap!
Give latinos five more years, they'll be on the list too. Maybe they already should be, latinos are overwhelmingly Catholic.

Death panel and euthenasia... come on Z, you have to know better than that. Are you really the lowest common demoninator? You can't let go of racism, so thats working against you.

Your post is so funny. Its a cliche. I keep reading it again, its got everything. People actually believe that stuff, think like that. Crazy.

I can't think of any promise Obama made, that hasn't been broken
Then again, those of us who actually studied his views prior to the election, knew that he would do this.

to bob, something can only be true, if it matches his deep held belief system
The only political terrorists in this country have been residents of the left.

Of course the left declares that anyone who opposses them is a terrorist on every other issue, so it's hardly surprising that they do so here.

As to the guns. Why does other people, excercising their second ammendment rights, scare you on the left so much?

The people involved in these instances were following the law, and not a single one of them got in trouble with the authorities.

bob and his delusions
he can't imagine how anyone who isn't in a leadership position could possibly be informed.

Really sad how the left actually thinks the rest of the world follows their model of how things should work.

More liberal hypocrisy
"News outlets that are focusing on the incendiary rhetoric of conservatives outside President Obama's town hall meeting Tuesday ignored the incendiary rhetoric -- and even violence -- of liberals outside an appearance by former President George W. Bush in 2002."
"Protesters slashed the tires of several state patrol cruisers and leapt onto an occupied police car, slamming the hood and blocking the windshield with placards. A female police officer was knocked to the street by advancing protesters, badly injuring her wrist.

The angry protest grew so violent that the Secret Service was forced to take the highly unusual step of using a backup route for Bush's motorcade because the primary route had been compromised by protesters, one of whom pounded his fist on the president's moving limousine.

All the while, angry demonstrators brandished signs with incendiary rhetoric, such as "9/11 - YOU LET IT HAPPEN, SHRUB," and "BUSH: ******* CHILD OF THE SUPREME COURT." One sign read: "IMPEACH THE COURT-APPOINTED JUNTA AND THE FASCIST, EGOMANIACAL, BLOOD-SWILLING BEAST!"

Yet none of these signs were cited in the national media's coverage of the event. By contrast, the press focused extensively on over-the-top signs held by Obama critics at the president's town hall event held Tuesday in New Hampshire.'

MA cowards
"Leftist Congressman John Tierney of Massachusetts is one of the many Democrats afraid to hear what their constituents have to say about health care reform. Remarkably, he is using the White House to clear voters for private meetings with staff. "

Is that why they fear firearms?
Because they are so emotional do they fear they will be shot for threatening others or do they fear they can't control themselves and will shoot someone?
Either way, an armed society encourages emotional liberals to control themselves. How horrible!

Bubkus Jones
"So are you saying the wealthy won't be wealthy anymore if they pay higher taxes?"

No, she said no such thing. You are distorting what she said. She said that they won't invest as much anymore into new business and new jobs.

I am an individual, who is mostly self-educated and chose to be a Conservative
Nobody 'brainwashed' me.

"We, the taxpayers, already pay huge amounts of money for the medical care of people without insurance!"

Yeah, we need to stop that too. Why add more?

"Unless you're willing to proclaim that uninsured people who can't pay their medical bills must go without medical care."

You took the words right out of my mouth: Let the bums bleed to death on the street curb right outside the emergency room.

And yes, even if said bum's 5 month old baby is the one sick. That's Darwinism for you.

Second runner up, the hospital bills the US Treasury directly for these bums and then the IRS goes after them. If they are illegals, then the US government charges their governments (deduct from foreign aid, for example).

Another liberal projection
I see a trend that liberals cannot comprehend the concept the individuals can make choices for themselves without following a crowd or an 'expert' or ...
Do they do this so they can blame others for their failings?

It's more likely projection
liberals know that they couldn't control themselves, so they assume that no one else can either.

more liberal projections
liberals are amazingly stingy when it comes to private charity. It's well documented that most liberals give almost nothing in terms of their own money to charity.

So they assume that if it weren't for govt taking the money by force, nobody would ever give to charity.

All of this was reported on NPR.
Sorry but it was on the news.

Did CNN condemn the outragous Bush protestors?

Neither where condemned
There was just a news story for both.

Its not the job of a reporter to condemn the message of protesters.

they do it for no reason other than... is simply a core perception they have of reality. They never question it. Those that do come into danger of converting to the other side.

All their 'cherished' views are like that. When you question them about them -- just simple, basic common sense questions of a non-partisan, purely informative nature -- they get either REAL uncomfortable or confused or both.

Like the Dem congresscritters at the town halls.

"not the job of a reporter to condemn the message of protesters."
It is now.

"E-mails from public overload House Web site"
"Amid a boisterous debate on health care reform, people flooded members of Congress on Thursday with so many e-mails that they overloaded the House's primary Web site.

Technical support issued a warning to congressional staff that the site - - may be slow or unresponsive because of the large volume of e-mail being sent to members.

Jeff Ventura, a spokesman for the House's chief administrative officer, which maintains the Web site, said traffic data was not available and could not be released without the lawmakers' consent.

But anecdotally, he said, the spike in e-mail volume was widely believed to be a result of the health care debate.

"It is clearly health care reform," Ventura said. "There's no doubt about it.""

Obama lies, granny dies.
Like social security, the further nationalizing health care will get more of the camel under the tent.
The dust up about Palin's death panels is amusing especially since member's of Congress brag about NOT reading the bill.
Unless death panels are not specifically excluded from the bill, they will most certainly creep in as they have done in OR.
Recall the case in OR where the state health plan would not pay for life saving medicine but would pay for life ending poison.

Actually, read the rest of the comment too
Is that like a Freudian slip, or do you really only pay attention to parts of comments on a regular basis Z? Seems like it.

Its consistent with conservative method in general. Using parts of people's words out of context is easy to do, as you've shown. Its stunning how often the method is used by guys like Rush, Hannity and Beck.

Joanie also said:
"I've never been hired by a poor person. But poor people can get hired by people who have the capital necessary to start up and maintain a business."

Add this to the portion you cited Z and its clear the connection was made between wealth, investing/hiring and taxes. Its a direct correlation from your comment Joanie.

My point in refutation was that wealthy people will continue to invest in new business and new jobs whether they pay less/the same or more taxes. They won't become poor because of taxes.

Now, I agree to an extent, that if wealthy people are allowed to keep more money, investment and hiring is slightly more robust. Slightly. I don't think its a significant difference. Just look how it played out from 2001-2007. I think the business environment and market circumstances dictate such things more. Credit is available and wealthy people have access to it, when an opportunity exists, they will take advantage of it, they already have the resources to do so. Speaking of resources, wealthy people also have access to accountants and lawyers and such, professionals who can enable a person or corporation to use every possible loophole to lessen the tax burden. I don't fault them for that. I wish I was wealthy like that so I could take advantage of it too.

Joanie, in regard to your last post too. I don't refute what you say about unhinged (my word) liberals. I'll just say, pointing it out doesn't change anything. So both forms of action are stupid and unproductive, embarrassing even. The problem with the town hallers is how horribly misinformed most are who make comments. All this stuff about death panels and euthenasia and placing a beauracrat between you and your doctor has people scared. The shouting at town halls accomplishes nothing except to attract attention. These people don't care to be informed, they want to vent because they're scared, about everything. Heck, I am too. I concluded during W I was going to get a gun for home protection. Who the heck knew what would happen with that guy as our face! But now, its us that got the rash of the crazies. The economy is a big reason, now political expression is a way to vent. At first some groups organized it, conservative media spread the news and now all the cameras are on it. Now thats attention. So Now is when I want the extra protection, who knows what these kooks are capable of, and they're out here among us. Everybody is just all confused right now.

There it is. Kudos to Z for some honesty
"You took the words right out of my mouth: Let the bums bleed to death on the street curb right outside the emergency room."

Now thats consistent. I don't care that its heartless, I'm so proud of you for being honest.

... to get you to shout in their face
Thats why they do it.

I love it.

"All their 'cherished' views are like that. When you question them about them -- just simple, basic common sense questions of a non-partisan, purely informative nature -- they get either REAL uncomfortable or confused or both.

Like the Dem congresscritters at the town halls."

Thats how I ask "simple, basic common sense questions of a non-partisan, purely informative nature" all the time - by shouting it incoherently in your face. You know, like at the town halls. Your gold Z.

For real, try to ask me one. See how crazy i get.

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