Yesterday, I raised the possible specter of violent intimidation breaking out at a health care townhall meeting. Turns out I was off by about twelve hours:
Tampa, Florida– Fireworks were expected, but organizers of a town hall meeting on health care reform were caught off guard Thursday night by just how explosive the issue became.
Hundreds showed up for the 6:00 forum held at the Children’s Board of Hillsborough County on Palm Avenue in Tampa. The auditorium which holds around 250 people, filled up so quickly eventually Tampa Police were ordered to begin turning people away.
Inside, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa and State Rep. Betty Reed barely made it through opening remarks before angry protestors began shouting and interrupting their remarks.
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.
Meanwhile, one anti-health insurance reform activist has told people to bring firearms to townhall meetings:
Based on the news that health care events are edging into violence, an anti-health care reform protester in New Mexico named Scott Oskay is calling on his hundreds of online followers to bring firearms to town halls, and to ‘badly hurt’ SEIU and ACORN counter protesters.
I’m sure that will work out just fine. Meanwhile, David Neiwert echoes a point I’ve been making–if we haven’t veered into fascism, we’re getting awfully close (italics mine):
No one has a problem with right-wingers marching in protest of the health-care plans. That’s certainly their right. And no one minds that they choose to participate in these forums. But town halls were never designed to be vehicles for protest. They have always been about enabling real democratic discourse in a civil setting.
When someone’s entire purpose in coming out to a town-hall forum is to chant and shout and protest and disrupt, they aren’t just expressing their opinions — they are actively shutting down democracy.
And that, folks, is a classically fascist thing to do.
Meanwhile, business columnist Steven Pearlstein (and we all know that business columists are predisposed to TEH SOCIALISMZ!!) also realizes just how destructive the deceit underpinning this thuggery is:
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.
From his pen to the Intelligent Designer’s ears.
Finally, is there any doubt that if pro-Social Security protestors had been this confrontional at Republican townhalls, they would have had tasers shoved up their asses? Asking hard questions isn’t disruptive: thuggery is. As Paul Krugman notes:
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.