Tuesday, July 28, 2009

With a disingenuous right-wing media, could the "teabagger town hall" possibly be a good idea?

Yesterday, I attended the town hall put on by Senator Claire McCaskill's district director in response to protests outside of McCaskill's Delmar office by right-wing teabaggers. Apparently, last week a bunch of childish protesters were angry that McCaskill's staff didn't immediately hold a meeting with them and starting banging on the office's windows and ringing the buzzer. In fact, they also were ringing the buzzer of and annoying a nearby business that had nothing to do with McCaskill, which led to them being "flipped off" by one of the people who worked in the other business. The teabaggers of course had a fit. But McCaskill's staff decided to hold a town hall meeting with the protestors anyway, saying that, "it is our policy to meet with any protesting group." My question is, "Could this possibly be a good idea?" And my answer: "yes, it could possibly be a good idea in some alternate universe, but not in the world we actually live in."

First I should note that it is obvious why one might initially think that this is a good idea. Senator McCaskill is showing that she is open to listening to other points of view, a good indication that she is a deliberate and thoughtful politician. It would be hard to imagine Bush or Talent holding a town hall specifically for their opponents to share their perspectives with the public. I grant that McCaskill's heart was in the right place for being open to opposing opinions.

On the other hand, consider the consequences of the town hall. Basically, all of the right-wing crazies were allowed to broadcast their message completely unfiltered to tens of thousands of people through the local media. The event was set up so that the teabaggers got to speak their minds for the first hour, and then the debate was opened up to people who support health care reform. Media outlets that covered the event focused exclusively on the messages of the teabaggers, and mostly left before the final hour of "mixed" testimony. The teabaggers were granted validity for their thuggish tactics like banging on windows and doors, and were able to trumpet across the country (including on fox news national) how they had "taken over" a townhall. In other words, McCaskill and her staff allowed the teabaggers, who acted like bullies throughout the entire process, to broadcast their opposition to McCaskill's position to tens of thousands of people with virtually no response!

Yeah, yeah, you might say. Such is the price of doing the right thing. McCaskill and health care took a public relations hit, but at least she did the right thing. But I'm not so sure about this. We can differentiate two different things McCaskill might have hoped to accomplish with her town hall: (1) actually listening to what the teabaggers had to say, and (2) showing people that she was listening to what teabaggers had to say.

(1) was certainly accomplished with the town hall, but (1) could be accomplished in a lot of different ways. Teabaggers could have called McCaskill's office, tweeted her, made their little video messages, or whatever. All of these could have equally informed McCaskill of their reasons for opposing health care reform. Since McCaskill could have learned about their opinion through other means, it seems like the reason for holding a town hall must clearly have at least something to do with (2) showing people that she is listening.

However, all you have to do is look at the actual coverage in the right-wing media to see what an utter failure the event was for McCaskill if she was trying to accomplish (2). Check out the right-wing coverage:

From Sharp Elbows:
The Townhall Meeting Was So Well Attended They Had To Move From A Conference Room To The Cafeteria. Hundreds Turned Out, Mostly To Voice Their Opposition To Senator McCaskill's Position On Cap And Trade And HealthCare Reform. I Almost Felt Sorry For McCaskill's Rep. There Was A 30 Person Deep Line To Speak. Almost Everyone Who Spoke Was opposed To The Senator's Positions And They Were Fired Up. It Was Like A Firing Squad. But There Were Those In Attendance That Support The Senator's Position. A Group Called Repower America Was There To Push The Cap And Tax Bill. But They Were Heavily Out Numbered.
Gateway Pundit:
Missouri Senator Claire "ACORN" McCaskill arranged for her district director, Michelle Sherod to meet with constituents (after calling the cops on them two weeks ago) at a town hall meeting on Monday night at Forest Park Community College in St. Louis. Americans for Prosperity's Carl Bearden moderated the meeting and Ms Sherod took questions for the Senator.

They were expecting around 100-150 people... Hundreds showed up.
(There was one estimate that 1,000 were in attendance.)
And of course Fox Nation's headline:

Tea Party Protest Erupts During Senator's Town Hall!

Notice anything missing from these reports? Like, maybe, any mention whatsoever that McCaskill had specifically arranged to meet with protesters? All of the right-wing news sources are presenting this story as if the entire state of Missouri is hoppin' mad at McCaskill and this was just your regular town hall meeting that was crashed by an angry hoard of teabaggers. In other words, they give McCaskill no credit whatsoever for agreeing to meet with them; rather, they pretend like it was their sheer power in numbers that overtook the meeting.

In other words, (2) was a complete FAIL as well. All protesters, and even most people who haven't made up their mind, are going to hear about this event is that a big angry mob crashed a McCaskill town hall. They're not going to hear that McCaskill actually set the meeting up to better listen to concerns. McCaskill does not really appear like she was listening; rather, it appears that she held a town hall that was stormed by a massive uprising of "patriotic citizens."

Given that (1) could have been accomplished in many ways, and (2) was not accomplished, I'd have to say that the costs are too high to justify this event. There is no reason to give free media coverage to a bunch of people who will not give you any credit for meeting with them anyway and who will call you a "coward" the very next day. I appreciate the effort to understand both sides of the issue, but let's do so in a responsible way that doesn't allow the opposition to saturate the media with outright lies and misinformation.


  1. Does this suggest a naivete on the part of McCaskill's PR people or a brilliant stunt by the teabaggers?

  2. I'd lean more towards "naivete" on the part of McCaskill's PR peeps. Teabaggers are just doing what they always do: acting as hyperbolically as possible. In fact, hopefully it backfires on them as they're showing quite clearly that they're not trustworthy.

  3. Perhaps this was not as bad as you suggest Adam, as many of the people who attended from the anti-reform side were angry and at times illogical and incoherent. I actually think those with such extremists views have done the anti-side some disservice because they can not suggest real solutions or at times even admit there is a real problem.
    I talked with an opponent after the event and she admitted that her side has a real problem with its messaging, in part because they have no real answers.

  4. I have been outside and inside Claire McCaskill's office many times, including a five day vigil outside of her Delmar office. Although we have met many times with Michelle, not once has she chosen to ever meet with me.

  5. We're just not very smart. The conservatives believe its OK to use any strategy or tactic - no matter how disgusting or unethical - to STOP Obama and the Liberals. The sad thing is that it’s a fact of nature that the “self-interested” individual will always easily tear-down what altruistic individuals build. . .

  6. I attended this meeting, and spoke my piece about the how expanding health and dental care costs are impacting my personal economy and the economy of our nation. One of the opposition came up to me and offered to pay my dental bill. In fact, she did pay my bill and gave me a Glenn Beck book to read. She tearfully explained that if her family did not suffer such a heavy tax burden, they would be able to do more charitable giving. Now I am grateful to have that bill paid and I did need that help very much. Still why is it that she and her family resents taxation so much and prefers charitable giving. Is it so that she can feel good about herself? How about folks who accept charity? Is it easier to accept charity or to accept government assistance? Which is easier to find? to obtain?

  7. I don't think it was naivete from McCaskill's staff, I think they were trying to appease the teabaggers after they made such a ruckus. And that's the part that gets me. Did they try CALLING the office and REQUESTING a meeting? From what I heard, they went right to the banging on the windows, demanding a meeting. They showed no respect for McCaskill's staff at the protest or at the meeting (I was there). They were rude and ungrateful.

    I'm upset that McCaskill went so far to defend the protesters and give them this meeting, which they then spat in the face of. To me, it seems like Claire is trying to toe the line, keep everyone happy. The result is that no one is happy with her.

  8. This was part of a nationwide plan to protest outside of Democratic politicians' offices, demand attention, and disrupt town hall meetings. The protests are being organized by Americans for Prosperity, a big, well-funded conservative activist organization with a history of lobbying against regulation; they have previously worked on behalf of the tobacco and energy industries. I wrote about how the Missouri protests fit in to a bigger picture this week on MOMocrats.com.