In an ageless magazine cover, entitled “Freedom of Speech,” artist Norman Rockwell drew a guy in workman’s clothes standing up to speak his mind at a New England town meeting.
The fellow would get shouted down today, at some House members’ town meetings, if he tried to argue for a public option health care plan. He would have to pass an effigy in a noose if he tried to visit the office of Rep. Frank Kratovil, D-Maryland.
In Austin, Texas, last week, he would have seen a drawing of Rep. Lloyd Doggett with horns sticking out of his head, and passed a sign calling Doggett “a traitor to Texas.”
Up in Connecticut, he might have witnessed teabaggers urging Sen. Chris Dodd — recently diagnosed with prostate cancer — to commit suicide by taking painkillers “a handful at a time.”
Heckling a political big shot is as American as apple pie. It can tickle the funny bone and shatter the self-importance.
“Why do I talk about the Navy today?” then-Sen. Charles Robb, D-Va., once asked himself at the start of a speech.
“Because you’re in Newport News,” came a shout from the crowd.
In these parts, vocal dissent has usually come in clumsy form from tone-deaf loony lefties.
Anti-Iraq War shouters briefly interrupted Sens. Barack Obama and Maria Cantwell when Obama boosted Cantwell’s reelection with a 2006 appearance at Garfield High School.
Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., was getting ready to vote against the Iraq War resolution when he spoke at a 2002 candidates’ forum in Bellingham. Larsen outlined his reasoning, but took issue with provocative remarks made from Baghdad by colleague Rep. Jim McDermott.
Bellingham liberals hissed like a gaggle of geese, even though they would get Larsen’s vote less than 48 hours later.
The health care protests are different. They are organized, manipulated by national conservative groups, and reveal a new level of viciousness in America’s political dialogue. As well, there are inciters.
“Adolf Hitler, like Barack Obama, also ruled by dictate,” Rush Limbaugh told listeners Thursday. A few moments later, he intoned: “(The) Obama health care logo is damn close to a swastika logo.”
On the Fox News Channel, meanwhile, Glenn Beck was doing a skit with a joke about “put(ting) poison in Nancy Pelosi’s wine.” Beck recently called our 44th president a “racist” and charged that Obama has a “deep seated hatred for white people or the white culture.”
House Republicans seem to be taking delight at watching Democratic colleagues’ town meetings being turned replicas of 1933 sessions of the Reichstag.
House Republican leader John Boehner has chortled that House Democrats are “likely to have a very, very hot summer.”
Rep. Todd Akin, R-Missouri, made light of pictures of Kratovil being hung in effigy.
“This particular meeting, in a way, is a bit unique,” he told a gathering. “Different people from Washington, D.C., have come back to their districts and have town hall meetings and they almost get lynched.”
The audience reportedly laughed and then broke into applause. Akin went on to say that he disapproves of lynching, but with the light touch of drawing a finger across his throat.
“Norm Dicks Insults Then Shuts Constituents Out of Health Care Debate,” read a National Republican Congressional Committee broadside, issued Thursday after Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., indicated he hasn’t scheduled town hall meetings.
At the same time, however, Eastside resident Collin Jergens tried without success to access a “telephone town hall” put on Thursday by Republican Rep. Dave Reichert.
“The line was busy the whole time,” Jergens said. “I called his office later and I was told that there would be another call next week, but the congressman is not planning to hold any public town hall meetings in the district during August.”
The right wing may fall victim to a famous Winston Churchill adage: He who sows the wind will reap the whirlwind.
The Obama administration is counterattacking, and can deploy a 10-million-name mailing list. Democrats and allied groups have fielded tough TV ads, showing “Birthers” harassing moderate Republican Rep. Mike Castle.
Health care reform is closer than at any time in recent American history.
Legislation to cut greenhouse gas emissions and encourage new energy sources has cleared the House of Representatives. For foes, it’s desperation time.
A Washington, D.C., firm specializing in “Astroturf” grassroots lobbying, has been “outed” as sending 12 forged letters opposing the climate-change legislation.
The letters purportedly came from the Charlottesville (Va.) NAACP and a Latino social-services group.
The contractor, Bonner and Associates, blamed a “temporary employee” since fired.After the August recess, one Washington lawmaker may be tempted to play the old Judy Collins hit “Both Sides Now.”
Three years ago, the left turned out in force for a Sea-Tac town meeting, and gave Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., a noisy bad time for refusing to support a Bush impeachment inquiry.
Smith may get an earful from the other side when he holds a health care town hall in Lakewood on Aug. 25.