Earlier tonight, two “town hall meetings” erupted in violence, with Republicans, naturally, blaming Democratic “censorship.” At this point, 1:02 AM on Thursday night, there’s not a lot of information going around, to support or refute that point. I’ll update when there is.
One account, though, is undisputed: watch the video embedded in this story, from Tampa Bay’s local news network, and tell me which side is being more disruptive, as congresswoman Kathy Castor (D-FL) attempted to explain her position on Obama’s health care plan.
[Video slow to load. Watch instead on the local site, linked above, until I get it working. – Ed.]
What part of respectful debate, exactly, is shouting, booing, and covering windows with signs? Who’s the real “censor,” the man who shouts down a U.S. Representative, or the event screener who gives priority placement to a popular local union, known for frequently attending the sessions before they became controversial?
Like it or not, the conduct on display at the town hall meeting is a mob mentality, originating on the opposition side last year and on the rise throughout 2009, until it’s now bleeding over to hinder reasonable debate on all sides. This breakdown of civil discourse is the natural consequence of demagoguery on the airwaves and the internet, where conservative pundits resort to calling the President a “socialist,” a Nazi, a tyrant, or a foreigner, instead of criticizing his policies, and where political vaudeville performers joke about poisoning politicians.
These commentators have no idea of the horrors of actual tyranny. None of us do. But thanks to the First Amendment, they can say whatever they want. However, it doesn’t mean they should. If people on either side keep calling their opponents “Nazis,” “radicals,” etc., violence is the natural result. Talk is talk, until it’s not.
When we speak in the public forum, we owe it to our fellow-citizens to build a climate where informed individuals can disagree politely, on the merits, without having to resort to the rhetoric of hate, violence, and “othering” (“radical,” “socialist,” etc.). No law requires this duty of us, for it is something we owe each other, and not the state. But it is more important even than our Constitution, because the freedoms enshrined in the Constitution presume its existence, as a predicate. Civil debate, free of name calling (I can’t believe this is even an issue), is the first and most important American virtue. To anyone, in any party, who thinks that harassing elected representatives is a way to resolve political differences; and to any commentator, of any personasion, who thinks that repeating a few emotionally-charged catchphrases discharges your duty to inform your audience and check disfavored government policies — kindly stop.