Part of the Bay Area News Group

Demand for town hall meetings: Real or orchestrated?

By Lisa Vorderbrueggen
Thursday, August 6th, 2009 at 6:18 pm in Congress, healthcare reform.

Miller

Miller

McNerney

McNerney

I arrived at the office this morning to find a half-dozen voice mail messages on my machine full of criticism of reps. Jerry McNerney and George Miller for the legislators’ failure to host town hall meetings on health care reform.

It’s a curious thing. Other than Lafayette resident Jason Bezis, who repeatedly smacked former Rep. Ellen Tauscher over what he viewed as her skimpy town hall schedule, I have never had calls demanding town hall meetings.

Ironically, Miller and McNerney are among the most accessible members of Congress in the Bay Area. Miller frequently holds town hall meetings and McNerney has hosted more than 50 “Congress on Your Corner” events.

So, what’s up?

The health care furor is this year’s keynote issue in the traditional public relations blitz known as Congress’ summer recess, where representatives travel home to their districts and attempt to sell or thwart the latest policy. (Does anyone remember the Republicans’ plan to privatize Social Security?)

But the level of vitriol related to health care has clearly exceeded what most of would consider civilized public  discourse. National news sources such as the New York Times and MSNBC talk show host Rachel Maddow are abuzz with reports of orchestrated, GOP-endorsed, extremist behavior among opponents of the Democrats’ health care reform package such as a Maryland representative hung in effigy and a talking points memo that outlines harrassment methods.

No wonder Miller and McNerney have no wish to stand up at a local school gym or a church hall and face an angry mob intent on shutting down discussion rather than promoting debate. A hostile confrontation might make for good television footage but does little to advance the public’s understanding of this highly complex issue.

Instead, the congressmen are planning to hold telephone-style town hall meetings where neither they nor the attendees have physical contact with each other. (Contact the members’ offices for the times, which have not been finalized.)

Elected officials like tele-town halls because hundreds, if not thousands, of people can call in, ask questions and listen to the discussion. Compare that with a a physical town hall, which is limited by the large geography of Congressional districts and, in this care, carries the potential for major disruptions.

Critics dislike them because congressional staffers screen the callers and block people they view as hostile extremists and it does little good to carry protest signs because no one can see them.

But Miller and McNerney should take care not to alienate constituents based on the false assumption that all opponents of the Democrats’ health care package are mindless Rush Limbaugh dittoheads.

“I work in the health care industry and I am adamantly opposed to the Democrats’ proposal,” said an angry  voter in the district who wants face-time with McNerney. “But I’m not some mindless puppet of a Sean Hannity or a Rush Limbaugh and it’s insulting to be categorized as some kind of nut job because I disagree with what the Democrats are doing. I have legitimate issues to discuss and I want the opportunity to make them to my elected representative.”

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  • Elwood

    Neither Miller nor McNerney has the balls to face their constituents.

    The phony phone-in “town halls” give them cover with no risk that someone might say something unpleasant about them or their voting record.

    How stupid do they think people are? Answer: They think that we’re dumb enough to buy it.

    The dimmiecrat response to their town hall problem reminds me of the knight’s response to the attack of the killer bunny in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”

    Run! Run Away!

  • Arne Simonsen

    Lisa, wouldn’t CalPERS be considered “privatized”? It invests its money in real estate, bonds, and the stock market and has done fairly well over time.

    The problem with CalPERS is the Defined Benefit; whereas the Republican proposal to “privatize” Social Security was a Defined Contribution program (something that CalPERS should have adopted a long time ago).

    As for McNerney, I’ve been told that his people have a list of Republicans who they do not allow to attend his so-called town hall meetings; even if they are from his district! You might want to check into that.

  • Concerned Citizen

    Obama once told his friends “to get into people’s faces” in order to sway voters to his side. Did you have a blog entry about that? Now to this week, what about Obama’s request for people to send into his site anything that might be taken as hostile to universal healthcare? You’re a pathetic Soros/Acorn agent. Just admit it, already! How much are they paying to keep your paper afloat? The Obama Police State thanks you for your services.

  • J. Alexander

    I love the teleconference idea! I work during the day and I am constantly on the run on the weekends. A teleconference with Congressman McNerney fits right into my schedule. I hope he does more of them and adds webconferencing too. I am all in favor of a mixed media approach to communicating with constituents.

  • Elwood

    You can bet it fits right into McNerney’s schedule too, J.

    This way he gets to pick the participants and eliminate any who might ask embarrassing questions.

    Kind of like the farces the chosen one has been staging lately, where the participants and the questions are all known in advance.

  • extremist behavior?

    Come on Lisa, this is not a story unless you present evidence to back up MSNBC & the NY Times claims that the GOP is planting these people at town halls. I think it is well known that those 2 media outlets are known to lean a bit to the left so without hard evidence to back up these claims it just sounds like you agree with them that free speech in this country should be limited. Sounds like Congressman Unemployed Wind Energy Consultant (McNerny) feels the same way, not wanting to face his district’s voters?

  • Karen

    It is obviously an orchestrated campaign to block health care reform, this furor over town hall meetings. First, we disrupt a few events, acting like anarchists, shouting down Democrats when they try to speak, and then we threaten violence. Of course, town hall meetings will be canceled as a result, giving us an opening to blast the liberals for denying us access, and we can say they lack balls and say other nice things to uphold our family values. The sad thing is, we’re cutting off our noses to spite our faces; we’ve been so fired up about socialized medicine that we can’t see the facts about cost effectiveness and we’ve been told to protest our taxes being raised even though it’s only the taxes of the rich that will go up. Who are these rich people? The insurance company execs, the drug company execs, the lobbyists. The faithful have been called to out-community-organize the community organizers, called by our disgraced leader, Dick Armey, who is behind all this, who is our true leader, not Rush or Steele, but Armey who wields the baton to direct our orchestra. We won’t even admit his disgrace – never happened – and Oliver North and J. Gordon Liddy are heroes and in secret in the dark of night we light our candles in front of the Shrine of Richard Nixon. We will protect our homes with loaded assault weapons and be ready to secede if the country gets any more socialistic. We toast the GOP with the Kool-aid spiked with Stepford vitamins purchased from Newsmax.com.

  • http://www.halfwaytoconcord.com/obama-inauguration/ Bill Gram-Reefer

    Lisa, I can’t vouch for the accuracy of MSNBC or Karen’s conspiracy theories above, but I can report that, just yesterday, 71 people visited Halfway To Concord from Google search for “townhall”

    It’s obvious from this single datapoint that there is great interest from voters wanting to hear about legislation that will change this country. Too bad our representatives are not up to the job.

    As for McNerney? Jane Hamsher at at Firedog Lake for example told me Progressives think he’s a waste of chair and don’t even track him anymore on their whip counts. But George’s silence is more than telling.

  • Lea

    When will we learn that those in congress know what is best for us?
    Forget the fact that the current bill will devastate our Health Care system,
    those in Congress know best. If you disagree you must be motivated by those evil people who pull your strings, Congress is all knowledge while you are weak and must conform.

  • Realist

    “A hostile confrontation might make for good television footage but does little to advance the public’s understanding of this highly complex issue.”

    Well said.

  • John W

    Hear, hear to Karen’s remarks. I attended one of McNerney’s early town halls in San Ramon. Most people there were pro-McNerney (or at least pleased his predecessor was out of office), but not all. But it was totally civilized and rational, and McNerney was completely down to earth. It’s very sad that, in the name of debate and free speech, these thugs show up to disrupt these meetings for the very purpose of preventing open discussion. Some members of Congress have reported death threats. Most of these people don’t give a rat’s you know what about health care, one way or the other. It’s hard to even say what they want. Some are deceived by lies about euthanasia for elders or reparations. People seem to buy “the big lie” more than “the little lie.” As for health care, there’s lots of room for opinions. But I find it a sorry spectacle to see elders who obviously are on Medicare yelling to “keep government’s hands off of my Medicare,” opposing “government health care” and eager to deny others access to the same care they would never have but for Medicare. It’s like, “I’m in the lifeboat, and don’t you dare try to climb aboard.”

  • Serf

    George Miller’s withdrawal from his contituents has been breathtaking. I have called his office to ask when he will hold townhall meetings. His office pointed me to the audio of the conference call on his website with supposedly 2000 concord residents. About 12 people get to ask questions and all but about 2 have genuine concerns. George answers in platitudes and rehearsed statments and dismisses their concerns with disparaging remarks. He sounds neither willing or able to address their concerns.

    His office says he is “looking at” doing some other conference calls. They say they’ll call me and let me know. Why can’t they just post the meeting dates and times on his website? Sounds like democracy by invitation only, which is, of course, no democracy at all.

    If you look at his website you’ll notice the comments are concerned about healthcare. His continuents want to know and deserve better information, but he seems unwilling to engage them.

    The issues Congress is currently considering – healthcare, cap and trade, rescinding the union secret ballot — are important issues that if passed will dramatically change our soceity forever. Doesn’t George owe his constiuents more time to discuss and understand these issues? Is he hiding something? One has to wonder if he has not sold out to some kind of government takeover after which he will no longer be obliged to listen to the little people like us.

  • Mike F.

    Wow, these blogs are extreme from both sides; some make good points, then blow it by resorting to mud-slinging. However, Lisa V., you did bring this out by quoting two very left-wing sources. I saw the Maddow show and the evidence was very flimsy. The people at the townhall venues seem genuine and they aren’t resorting to antics that “Code Pink” or “Acorn” commonly exhibit; no matching shirts and megaphones, just passionate questions and statements. On June 22nd you even reported on union leader, Rollie Katz getting passionate during public comment at the County Sup’s meeting. Is this not the same kind of passion being expressed at the townhalls? Shame, shame. Please pull the “compass of objectivity” out of your desk drawer and reorient yourself before you post the next article.

  • Mike F.

    I’d like to see Miller and McNerney speak to job creation. Their co-signing of the letter to Toyota on the NUMMI plant closing was weak. They need to explain why the stimulus has not stabilized unemployment.

    It is about creating jobs in the private sector gentlemen.

  • Elwood

    For Karen and John W.:

    Whenever I read one of these left-wing lunatic rants, the same questions invariably occur to me:

    What have you been smoking?

    Where did you find it?

    Is there any left?

    Can I have some?

  • Common Tater

    If I want to see weasels and skunks, I go to the zoo.

  • BJD

    I love Bill Gram-Reefer shameless self-promotion.

    These town halls are not organized by the GOP, but by groups that seat on the right side of the isle like Freedomwatch and other orgs.

    Attempting to say that right wing groups aren’t helping with these yell fest, your a partisan and a liar.

    To be honest, I love this crap. I can’t wait for the cycle to shift so I to can defeat democracy to defeat Healthcare reform or some other federal program.

  • Elwood

    BJD, please see post #15

  • tami

    Hey Karen, you’re an idiot. You really think that these are organized efforts to block the Democrats? Have you seen most of them? They’re elderly people afraid of being done in like “Soylent Green.” Talk about drinking the Koolaid. This is called democracy in action. Too bad your president doesn’t know what that is. He just went on record telling us to shut up. What a guy. And people are angry because he is shoving this down our throats and doesn’t care what his employer (us) thinks. Get with it Karen, quit being the sheep that you so obviously are.

  • tami

    Hey BJD…it’s “you’re.” That must be from your liberal English program, right?

  • middleclass

    I am sick with the so-called left-wing people like Rush Limba, the drug king, and his GOP (Greedy Obnoxious People) crony’s ( R-politicians). They call themselves Americans, yet they have never done anything for other Americans who are down on their luck, because of someone like themselves, who would lie and cheats to get what they wanted, and in doing-so, has screwed-up this country in everyway possible. Rush calls himself a solid American, I doubt-it. He never served in the Arm forces. Rush is just a pig that just likes to run his mouth off against anything that is good for Americans, like sharing the cost of health care. So what if this should cost a little for us to cover other Americans, who some have served this country in war and or service. Would a true Christian or American be willing to help his brother and sisters in downtimes I would like to think so. However, maybe I was wrong. Some of people are the type that will not offer a lending hand. I am not without insurance, so I am not speaking for myself, but others that are not as fortunate as I am. I challenge people not overlook their brothers and sisters in their low moments and be a real Christmas, and give other Americans too.

    A True American Veteran,

  • Kevin

    As a member and assistant organizer in most of the Organizations building up to try to stop what this congress is trying to do to our health care in these mens districts. I can absolutely, catagorically deny any claim that the republicans are even involved. We have not even contacted a political party. Many of these people that want to stop this bill actually voted for Obama. Granted some may have voted republican but I actually think most are independant and many in this area are democrats. The violence is not being started and will not be started by any patriot group. Yes, we are angry because congress is ignoring us but we are not violent. It’s the SEIU and ACORN groups that are getting violent. Something else to make note of is that the average of the people in our groups is over the age of 50 and if I had to guess I’d say the mean is around 60. I personally know of a couple of women in thier 80′s. Not exactly the kind of people to be violent against 20 and 30 year olds. I suggest you get the real facts before you repeat some that has come out of the main stream Obama media. If you are just going to spout the democratss lies about us then give up your job you’re no longer doing it right.

  • middleclass

    Hey Middleclass Right Wingers:

    Haven’t you learned from the actions of the past administration, that the right wing politicians are not for the middleclass people, but to support the rich, or maybe you are not a middleclass servant and will be paying more taxes, because of your annual earnings. Than I can understand your reason for greed(Bernie).

    Peace,

    A True American Veteran

  • Elwood

    Re: Posts 21 and23:

    And a very Merry Christmas to you too, Middleclass.

    Whatever you’ve been drinking seems to be giving you lots of Christmas cheer.

  • Barry Biden

    There is a rumor on Claycord.com that George Miller is holding 3 secret “Town Meetings” with unions. Anyone have any information on this?

  • Arne Simonsen

    Middleclass, you’ve got to stop drinking the Kool-Aid. I’ve never heard such horse manure.

    And what makes you think you are “a true American veteran”? This 24-year Navy Retiree would beg to differ with you.

    Better check the U.S. Census Bureau and you will find that most republicans are “middle class”.

    There are far more millionaire Democrats in Congress than there are Republicans, so it is time to bury that myth.

  • middleclass

    Elwood, do not look to the future for you and the Grinch’s (GOP). We can see it is changing since your party’s inept political leaders are all the same no matter what goof ball tries to lead the GOP party. All they want is more, more, more, just like their past leaders ( W). Tell me what good that administration did in 8 years of blunders.

    You and your goons think you will lead again. You must smoking something, or the Christmas ghost is still working on your guy Scrooge.

    Peace,

    A True American Veteran

  • middleclass

    Arne Simonsen,

    What war at sea did you get into. Tell me about your great adventure being a milk bottle at sea.

    I know you were a Navy Seal just as POWCA was in his war dreams.

    Where did you get your census on millionaires being more in the Democrats then the GOP in congress? You’re drinking saltwater and that’s why you’re delirious and think because you are a retired Bee, which I doubt was anything heroic.

    As for my claim to be a veteran, I know I am.

    Peace,

    A True American Veteran

  • Elwood

    Yo, MC:

    I’ve been a registered Democrat probably longer than you’ve been alive.

    And I’m a veteran too!

    Something seems to be interfering with your ability to form coherent thoughts into coherent English sentences.

  • Mary Larson

    One thing is for certain – these Democrats who refuse to hold town hall meetings are SCARED of their constituents. They should NOT be voted back into office next year.

    People are shouting and raising their voices because it is obvious that our so-called representatives in Washington are NOT LISTENING!

    Vote them OUT!

  • http://N/A james

    I can’t believe the slant of your article.
    You can’t believe that public outrage or civil disobedience can be for causes AGAINST what the Left espouses.

    I, for one, am an independent voter. I hate both parties– all they do is lie and spend more money on pork/waste/their friends/utopian nonsense.

    We are out of money and going so deep into debt that there is no way the government will ever recover without strangling the productive people to death. Now, for the sake of another big government idea (thanks US Congress, for those wars, Medicare Part D, TARP, illegal car company buyouts, clunkfare) we are circling the drain with the biggest program expansion in history.

    No wonder WE (yes, WE) are angry!

    You just can’t get your head around the fact that the country actually has massive opposition to a stupid idea, because that idea happens to come from a President that you happen to so obviously like.

  • RealAmerica

    The reality is that the middle class of America has been targeted by the corporate handlers of both major political parties.

    First it was Social Security – and the age extension to claim benefits and replacement of real money with Treasury IOUs. Then the decimation of jobs for Americans to reduce the ability for us to create wealth (H1-b and work visas). Then there was the drain on the economy by forcing ‘diversity’ into the population and have our taxes pay for a lot of it (1/4 of ALL school days lost to ESL, for example). Then there was the takeover of the main stream media by corporate handlers that has reduced its credibility just above politicians. That set up a ripe environment to trigger the ‘banking buddies bailout’ of 2008 and massive INCREASED NATIONAL DEBT. And it wiped out the accumulated baby boomer middle class wealth in their homes’ equity.

    Well, now the middle class is pushed too far. And who composes America’s middle class? Mostly white baby boomers. Who is showing up at Tea Parties? Mostly white baby boomers. Do you see the pattern now?

    It’s not about partisan squabbles. The anger is directed at the corporate handlers who are using Congresspersons as shields. And as long as Congress voluntarily acts as shields by representing their handlers’ interests over and above their constituents’, they SHOULD FEEL THE HEAT!! As long as Congress continues to bankrupt America, THEY SHOULD FEEL THE HEAT!!!

  • Arne Simonsen

    “Middleclass”, you’re blowing smoke out your rear. No, I was not a Navy SEAL.

    I was a Russian linguist/cryptanalyst involved in Special Operations aboard submarines, ships and aircraft; and what I did won’t be declassified until after I am long gone from this world.

    I was just a bit luckier than my shipmates on the USS Liberty, USS Pueblo, EC-121, VQ-1 & VQ-2 (EP-3 ARIES and EA-3B WHALE) and a couple of fast attack nuclear submarines.

    As for the number and party affiliation of millionaires in Congress, just Google it and you’ll find out for yourself.

  • Hal M

    I plan to ask at least some of the following Questions at the forum tomorrow:

    Do you consider the “independent” or “swing vote” necessary for your election? If so, what do you plan to do to encourage their vote vs. playing to your party base?

    Do you consider health care a basic human right and if so, what does that mean to you?

    Why do you think tort reform isn’t part of the new health care reform plan?

    If we are already paying for the uninsured, why should reform cost anything more; and if the new plan is intended to squeeze inefficiencies out the private insurance system by reducing bureaucracy, why aren’t the health care savings” creating a lower tax burden? Where is this money going?

    Why does 2009 CBO study say that the reform plan is going to cost more?

    What do you think of the Krauthammer Plan? (It backs employers out of the equation and makes individuals fully responsible.) What if expanded coverage was limited to catastrophic medical and children (up to age 18)?

    Do you think employees should be taxed on their employer provided health care “fringe benefits”? If not, why not?

    The two largest employers (by head count) in Sacramento County are in the health care industry. [Sutter/California Health Services and Kaiser Permanente] Do you consider this a fluke statistic? What if you learned that 4 of the top 6 are in the health care industry? [add UC Davis Medical Center and CHW/Mercy Health Care]

    Are undocumented immigrants contributing to the health care “crisis” by free riding the system? If so, how will the reform address that part of the problem?

    If our nation consisted of 150,000,000 wolves and 149,000,000 sheep would it be fair for the country to go on a lamb diet?

  • Bob C

    To ‘Middleclass’,

    “I know I am a veteran?!” You really said that?

    Kid, you’re a fraud; you’re no veteran. Based on your posts, I’d give 2 to 1 odds you barely graduated high school.

    I get a kick out of boys like you who think they can drop a title and fool men who have actually served, like Arne and me. Take a piece of advice that will save you a lot of trouble in the future… don’t play this game. I can pick you liars out in no time flat, and you’re lucky we’re not sitting next to each other at a bar.

    Sincerely,
    Bob

  • Marylou

    Lisa, You’re drinking the koolaid. I knew it right away when you said these guys are the most accessible…

    You didn’t question, must state this as a matter of fact, when in fact it is a matter of opinion.

    It appears to me after viewing the George Miller video, the only! You-Tube available was that he is totally NOT available except to his close supporters. It’s obvious.

    This is right out of the play book (Alinsky). Have meetings that appear to be happy and supportive.

  • Marylou

    Lisa, You’re drinking the koolaid. I knew it right away when you said these guys are the most accessible…

    You didn’t question, just state this as a matter of fact, when in fact it is a matter of opinion.

    It appears to me after viewing the George Miller video, the only! You-Tube available was that he is totally NOT available except to his close supporters. It’s obvious.

    (Spelling corrected.)

    This is right out of the play book (Alinsky). Have meetings that appear to be happy and supportive.

  • Zeptour

    This is so typical of Mcneary he is a doesnt even have the decency to meet his constituants. I dont get it