I'll let Krugman start us off, and I'll chime in:
There’s a famous Norman Rockwell painting titled “Freedom of Speech,” depicting an idealized American town meeting. The painting, part of a series illustrating F.D.R.’s “Four Freedoms,” shows an ordinary citizen expressing an unpopular opinion. His neighbors obviously don’t like what he’s saying, but they’re letting him speak his mind.
That’s a far cry from what has been happening at recent town halls, where angry protesters — some of them, with no apparent sense of irony, shouting “This is America!” — have been drowning out, and in some cases threatening, members of Congress trying to talk about health reform.
Some commentators have tried to play down the mob aspect of these scenes, likening the campaign against health reform to the campaign against Social Security privatization back in 2005. But there’s no comparison. I’ve gone through many news reports from 2005, and while anti-privatization activists were sometimes raucous and rude, I can’t find any examples of congressmen shouted down, congressmen hanged in effigy, congressmen surrounded and followed by taunting crowds.
And I can’t find any counterpart to the death threats at least one congressman has received.
So this is something new and ugly.
Indeed. Let's take a look at yesterday.
On his program, Rush Limbaugh took note of a town hall meeting in Tampa Florida, to be held yesterday evening. According to Media Matters' summary of that broadcast, Limbaugh read a report that "Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL) scheduled a 'last minute' town hall event."
"This is what's happening," explained Rush, "Obama has mobilized union thugs to go out and also attend these town meetings to intimidate the genuine citizens out there who are upset about this." The implication here, we guess, is that "union thugs" aren't "genuine citizens." He added:
LIMBAUGH: Those are paid act — paid activists are going to be showing up. And that's why — so the Democrats are going to get brave now. They're going to have protection there. The mob's showing up. The real, genuine mob is showing up to defend these Democrats from the unruly Nazis that are showing up to protest the health care bill.
And what happened at that meeting last night? The teabaggers drowned out discussion. You can see it for yourself starting about two minutes into this video clip.
And then it got worse In addition to the vocal disruptions, there were some reports of violence at the town hall. According to WTSP, the Tampa CBS affiliate:
Violence at Tampa health care forum
Tampa, Florida – Angry protesters and strong supporters are clashing inside and all around a health care reform town hall meeting in Downtown Tampa. The meeting which was scheduled to begin at 6:00 at the Children's Board of Hillsborough County drew hundreds of people who quickly began to overwhelm staff and event organizers at the front entrance.
As the building filled to capacity, angry protesters stuck outside began to scream, yell, and chant. At one point, those trying to get inside began banging on windows as Tampa Police officers quickly spread out guarding all entrances.
10 Connects photojournalist Kevin Carlson, currently inside the meeting reports at least one fist fight breaking out inside. Some other journalists remain outside.
Rush also took umbrage with Nancy Pelosi's comment that there were swastiksa appearing in the angry mobs at some of these townhall protests. Unfortunately…
There are further reports of violence, especially from St. Louis. Details are sketchy, but it appears that a lot of protesters were prevented from attending the town hall meeting, held in a small venue. When to SEIU employees were then admitted (SEIU was a sponsor, as they were in a NH meeting, where a 9 month pregnant SEIU staffer got harrasssed), that provoked the teabag contingent outside.
St. Louis County police arrested six people, including a Post-Dispatch reporter, during a demonstration Thursday evening outside a forum on aging called by U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan, D-St. Louis.
Three people were arrested on suspicion of assault, two for interfering and one for peace disturbance – all misdemeanors, said St. Louis County Police spokesman Rick Eckhard.
"You've got to understand — we're at a very volatile situation, we've got 800 people and we've got to maintain order," Echkard said. "They did what they had to do."
One man, a conservative protester was injured.
Spitz said she won't be returning to any such meetings anytime soon.
"These tea baggers are dangerous," she said. "I'm not going to any more town hall meetings until these people calm down."
Kenneth Gladney, 38, a conservative activist from St. Louis, said he was attacked by some of those arrested as he handed out yellow flags with "Don't tread on me" printed on them. He spoke to the Post-Dispatch from the emergency room at St. John's Mercy Medical Center, where he said he was awaiting treatment for injuries to his knee, back, elbow, shoulder and face. Gladney, who is black, said one of his attackers, also a black man, used a racial slur against him before the attack.
Some conservative blogs are using the injury of Gladney (who is black) to make the allegation that people who support health care are "racist"… a rather bizarre charge since Gladney's assailant was also black.
The bottom line is that the teabagging protesters came angry and ready to fight. And now that they're getting some pushback, the whole thing is getting seriously out of control.
About healthcare reform.
Where do I weigh in?
Look, I don't have problems with civil disobedience, protests, etc. That doesn't bother me (although, of course, I don't think violence on any side helps anybody). What troubles me about the teabagging opposition isn't their opposition per se, but that it is a movement against healthcare reform which offers nothing. Their slogan — literally — is "just say 'no'".
But even that pales in comparison to the opposition's outright lying (or, at the grassroots level, believing the lies). The insurance industry and status quo lobbiest have played the fearmongering card so skillfully, that it stifles reasonable debate. How can you listen (or better yet, educate) someone who literally believes that Obama wants to euthanize senior citizens? How can you reason with people addicted to unreasonableness?
WaPo columnist Steven Perlstein,normally a mild-mannered guy, writes about this, in an article which really deserves the full read-through treatment. Here's how he starts:
As a columnist who regularly dishes out sharp criticism, I try not to question the motives of people with whom I don't agree. Today, I'm going to step over that line.
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.
There are lots of valid criticisms that can be made against the health reform plans moving through Congress — I've made a few myself. But there is no credible way to look at what has been proposed by the president or any congressional committee and conclude that these will result in a government takeover of the health-care system. That is a flat-out lie whose only purpose is to scare the public and stop political conversation.
Under any plan likely to emerge from Congress, the vast majority of Americans who are not old or poor will continue to buy health insurance from private companies, continue to get their health care from doctors in private practice and continue to be treated at privately owned hospitals.
The centerpiece of all the plans is a new health insurance exchange set up by the government where individuals, small businesses and eventually larger businesses will be able to purchase insurance from private insurers at lower rates than are now generally available under rules that require insurers to offer coverage to anyone regardless of health condition. Low-income workers buying insurance through the exchange — along with their employers — would be eligible for government subsidies. While the government will take a more active role in regulating the insurance market and increase its spending for health care, that hardly amounts to the kind of government-run system that critics conjure up when they trot out that oh-so-clever line about the Department of Motor Vehicles being in charge of your colonoscopy.
And he ends:
The Republican lies about the economics of health reform are also heavily laced with hypocrisy.
While holding themselves out as paragons of fiscal rectitude, Republicans grandstand against just about every idea to reduce the amount of health care people consume or the prices paid to health-care providers — the only two ways I can think of to credibly bring health spending under control.
When Democrats, for example, propose to fund research to give doctors, patients and health plans better information on what works and what doesn't, Republicans sense a sinister plot to have the government decide what treatments you will get. By the same wacko-logic, a proposal that Medicare pay for counseling on end-of-life care is transformed into a secret plan for mass euthanasia of the elderly.
Government negotiation on drug prices? The end of medical innovation as we know it, according to the GOP's Dr. No. Reduce Medicare payments to overpriced specialists and inefficient hospitals? The first step on the slippery slope toward rationing.
Can there be anyone more two-faced than the Republican leaders who in one breath rail against the evils of government-run health care and in another propose a government-subsidized high-risk pool for people with chronic illness, government-subsidized community health centers for the uninsured, and opening up Medicare to people at age 55?
Health reform is a test of whether this country can function once again as a civil society — whether we can trust ourselves to embrace the big, important changes that require everyone to give up something in order to make everyone better off. Republican leaders are eager to see us fail that test. We need to show them that no matter how many lies they tell or how many scare tactics they concoct, Americans will come together and get this done.
If health reform is to be anyone's Waterloo, let it be theirs.
Right on. And Obama needs to realize that this is one issue where bipartisanship simply ain't going to happen. He's the President; he has the majority in Congress. It's time to get the healthcare that people elected him to get. If the Republicans want to stifle all debate and rachet up the decibel levels, while lying to the American people, let them. We should pass health care without them.
UPDATE: A woman goes to a healthcare town meeting in Wisconsin; speaks up as "just a mom" — turns out, not so much. She was vice-chairman of the Kewaunee County GOP until 2008. She actually worked for Kagen's opponent, and, according to her own resume, is affiliated with the Republican National Committee.
Also, if you have 10 minutes, listen to Rachel:
Kevin Drum's commenters had this exchange:
g.powell: But the right-wing crazies really believe this stuff about "kill granny". My father is one of them. He moved up the schedule of some elective surgeries at the VA because he is convinced Obama is out to kill him.
Anonymous: Wow g. powell. Now that's what I call irony! Moving up surgery within a govt run health care system (the VA) because govt-run health care is so scary.
g.powell: It's worse than that, my dad hates the idea of socialized medicine — it would be a disaster for the country — but loves the VA. Don't ask me to explain. I have thousand of these stories. The laws of physics and logic behave differently in Crazyland.