August 18, 2009

The Town Hall Meeting; aka The Giant Straw Man Convention

From the Representative's website:


WASHINGTON – Congressman Spencer Bachus (AL-6) today thanked citizens in the 6th District for their participation in his Town Hall on Health Care.
A crowd estimated at two-thousand people filled the Cahaba Grand Conference Center in Birmingham during the meeting on Monday.
Congressman Bachus made the following remarks.
"The Town Hall was American democracy at its finest and I hope the spirit of fairness displayed will serve as a model for the nation. People on both sides of the issue spoke with passion, but were treated with respect and civility by a large crowd. I am opposed to a government takeover of health care because it will lead to rationing, reduce quality, and raise costs. But the meeting raised areas where we can find common ground, including making private insurance more affordable and accessible, curbing fraud and waste, and making sure illegal immigrants don’t participate in any taxpayer-funded program. I want to personally thank the two-thousand people we estimate were in the room, as well as hundreds of others who wanted to attend. Your participation is vital and by speaking up you have already made a difference."

Well, okay, there are some things about this press release that are true. There were indeed over 2000 people in attendance. It was an amazing turnout. We arrived 30 minutes before the doors opened to find the line already wrapped around the complex all the way to the back. The seats filled quickly and many, like me, sat cross-legged on the floor between the stage and the front row or between aisles while others stood wherever space could be found. As anyone who is familiar with central Alabama might guess, the crowd was maybe 95% white, comprised of mostly professionals (we saw many attorneys and doctors -- and I was thrilled to see my favorite history professor, now retired). While in line, it was interesting to listen in while groups of men in company polos and khakis conducted frat-boy type posturing, each in turn giving his generalized projection for the future state of affairs. Now and then a sign-bearer would slowly stroll by, saying nothing but hoping someone would read their message. Close behind would follow a card-bearer in flowing skirt and sport sandals or a bearded and braided man donning some t-shirt message about constitutional rights, passing out web addresses for their grassroots organization. It was the most civil demonstration I've ever witnessed.

And sure, the Town Hall Meeting is American democracy at its best. However, I wouldn't say that this town hall was democracy at its best. This was a rally, plain and simple. Still, it was comparatively civil. But, this is Alabama -- people don't get real fired up unless you insult their mama or their Jesus, or try to take away their gun rights. Well, and as we will see, the topic of illegal immigrants.

I do agree the main themes of the night were as he stated, "making private insurance more affordable and accessible, curbing fraud and waste, and making sure illegal immigrants don’t participate in any taxpayer-funded program." In fact, they seemed to be the only themes -- with emphasis on the last. And unfortunately, anyone that wished to introduce anything other than those three topics was quickly boo'ed. The problem with the three themes is that they all had to do with changing the system that's in place now, not about how these ideas would be addressed in the bill.

Now, I am not a Republican, but I can respect this man and was honestly impressed with Rep. Bachus's ability to diffuse anger. But mostly I was impressed by how craftily he developed a straw man in response to questions, particularly those made by proponents of this bill, so large and blatant you could just sense the fire danger. Quite impressive skill there, I must say. And although I know that comes across as sarcasm, I genuinely do admire good debate skills and he certainly does possess them.

And as the night went on, our flammable friend only got bigger. If the question had to do with the problems with the current insurance system, he'd throw up a chart representing how many of the uninsured are actually illegal aliens. In response to a multi-part question regarding how this bill will affect the elderly, the ballroom erupted in raucous applause when he shouted, "If you are here illegally, you don't get health benefits!" When someone asked whether this bill could be repealed in the case it is passed, he responded with more about illegal immigrants.

Ok. Can we burn this straw man down already? We get it: illegals bad. But it would seem Rep. Bachus would have us believe that if only we could change immigration law, we'd have a perfect health system. So, as in the case with other Town Halls across the country, it's clear this one didn't accomplished much of anything, other than to further underscore the divide between the two sides. Still, way to go District 6 for a relatively civil meeting rally.