Friday, August 7, 2009

The Water Continues to Boil

There was a town hall meeting on health care reform in Tampa, Florida last night with Rep. Kathy Castor (D) as the featured speaker. More than 1,000 people showed up for this forum and like we have seen in other parts of the country (including here in Cincinnati) things quickly got out of hand. The venue could not hold all of the people that showed up and when some were denied entry into the building, they began banging on the windows and chanting. Here is a report from the FOX affiliate in Tampa:

If you are like me, you are probably thinking, how on Earth can anything get accomplished in a setting as crazy as that? Well, it appears that nothing did get accomplished in Tampa last night (emphasis mine):

Moments later, violence broke out just outside the main auditorium doors, prompting police to close off the meeting room. A freelance photojournalist was among those roughed up suffering damage to both his glasses and camera equipment.

"That's the most violent anyone has been towards me," said Mark Bishop, who drove from Orlando to video tape the event. "It was surprising to say the least."

At least one person was treated for minor injuries following the altercation and could be seen on video with a shirt partially torn off his body.

Outside, both those for and against President Obama's health care reform ideas chanted and yelled, at times banging on the outside of the auditorium windows. Some argued face to face in the parking lot, shouting and screaming at each other as police officers looked on.

"We walk a fine line between freedom of speech and public safety," said one of the commanding Tampa Police officers on scene who indicated no arrests were made.

Not long into the meeting, Rep. Castor was escorted out of the building after being encouraged by an event organizer to leave. It appeared the congresswoman gave up on trying to get her points across after the crowd inside grew unruly.

While there have been threats of violence and while members of Congress have received death threats over this issue (more on this in a moment), this appears to be the first instance where we actually have reports of violence breaking out at one of these town hall meetings. Here is another amateur video from last night:

There are two points that I would like to make. The first is that what happened last night in Tampa, is a goal of this movement. The town hall meeting had to be shut down and that is a win for the Republicans and Conservatives who oppose health care reform. Instead of offering solutions or constructive ideas to revise the health care system, they simply have taken the position that it will lead to "socialism" and all conversation about it should be shut down.

The second point is that this type of anger is not rooted in, nor is it specifically about, health care reform. This is the same kind of rage that we saw during the campaign for President when the right-wing supporters of John McCain claimed that Obama was a terrorist, that his friends were terrorists, and that he was going to destroy America. This is the same kind of rage that we saw once Obama took office and tea parties were organized in opposition to the stimulus. This is the same kind of rage that we see from time to time when the issue of race is brought up either in the Henry Gates case, the nomination of a Latina to the Supreme Court, or the legitimacy of Obama's birth certificate. They claim that Obama is a racist, a foreign-born operative, and imply that he isn't really "one of us". This rage has now morphed into the opposition to health care reform, but it still has the same ugly undercurrent that is all too recognizable.

Here is another interesting wrinkle in all of this (from the St. Petersburg Times):

Instead, hundreds of vocal critics turned out, many of them saying they had been spurred on through the Tampa 912 activist group promoted by conservative radio and television personality Glenn Beck. Others had received e-mails from the Hillsborough Republican Party that urged people to speak out against the plan and offered talking points.

This behavior is being encouraged (and in some cases organized) by some Republican and Conservative groups for political gain. This is actually being viewed as a political strategy that benefits the health care industry (which donates money to many politicians) as well as allowing these politicians to cloak themselves in this astroterf populism as they prepare to run for office in the next election. This rage is also being encouraged by people like Glenn Beck (who thinks Obama is a racist) and Rush Limbaugh which not only has the profitable result of gaining them ratings, but of whipping up the rage of fringe elements of the movement that may feel it necessary to stop (in their view) the "destruction of America" at all costs.

To be frank, I worry about where this rage is heading. I fear that the encouragement of these actions will allow for their continued embrace as a legitimate means to an end. When things begin to escalate from words, to symbolic hangings (in the video below), to only has to wonder where this stops and what goals are to be achieved by such practices.

Rachel Maddow spoke about this on her show last night and I it relates to this discussion and is on point:

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