Heated Town Halls Fire Up Republicans
Town hall meetings have proved powerful this summer and stirred conservative action.
Town hall protestors are "part of a phenomenon enabling national conservative groups to galvanize grassroots anger about big government and reshape the debate over President Obama's health care plan. Suddenly, it's the conservatives' turn to be fired up," USA Today reports. "National groups such as the newly formed Tea Party Patriots and the more established FreedomWorks, led by former House majority leader Dick Armey, say the anger is spontaneous, but acknowledge they're trying to channel it into a nationwide movement. The FreedomWorks website offers an August congressional recess kit complete with talking points, suggested questions for lawmakers and a draft letter to the editor."
"The conservative groups have embraced many of the same grassroots, tech-savvy techniques that Democrats used last year to help get Obama elected. The groups are also providing networking opportunities for Republican conservatives who say they didn't have a candidate to excite them in last year's presidential contest." While "there's no indication that the town hall meetings have eroded Obama's core support," independent voters have been influenced. "By a margin of 2 to 1, independents said the town hall meetings have made them more sympathetic to Obama's critics." The Tea Party Patriots have grown substantially since their first nationwide rally in February, with 400 local chapters now listed on the website. The group uses social networking sites, including Twitter and Facebook, to communicate (Kiely and Fritze, 8/20).
The town hall strategy "'so far has not proven to be a good one,' said Doug Schoen, a New York-based Democratic consultant and pollster," Bloomberg reports. "The more town halls there are, the more skeptical people become. People are just getting scared," Schoen added. "Heated town halls have received local and national television coverage. In an Aug. 18 skirmish, Representative Barney Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat, engaged in an angry exchange with a woman who called Obama's health-care efforts akin to a 'Nazi policy.'" Bloomberg notes that "Obama's electronic brigade of supporters, meanwhile, has so far struggled to find traction to help push policy initiatives, something the White House is trying to change. David Plouffe, Obama's 2008 campaign manager, has invited supporters to join the president today for an electronic strategy meeting" (McCormick, 9/20).
The Associated Press reports on the striking images seen at town hall meetings: "One congressman's office defaced by a swastika, other congressmen [were] heckled at public meetings, videos and placards likening Barack Obama to Hitler, private citizens with guns joining anti-Obama protests. In this season of searing political heat... these incidents have raised divisive questions of their own. Are they simply the latest twists in a long tradition of vigorous, public engagement or evidence of some new, alarming brand of political virulence?" Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Penn., says "there is more anger in America today than at any time I can remember," and "many conservatives agree that the depth of anger is unusual, but insist that it is understandable as well - with the health care issue overlapping with worries about the economy" (Crary, 8/19).
NPR: "As criticism of the plan, and of them, becomes heated, many members of Congress are working hard to avoid getting caught in front of an angry town hall meeting. You know the town halls have become toxic when Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA) avoids them. The congressman usually loves the format: He has held more than 300 in 10 years. But last week, he told a local paper he was worried about what he called a 'lynch mob' atmosphere, and he opted for a more remote method of reaching out to voters: teleconferencing" (Kaste, 8/19).