Andrea Fuller reports at The New York Times blog, ‘The Caucus’ on “tele-town halls,” a creative alternative to allowing town hall meetings on health insurance reform to devolve into shouting matches with shrill reactionaries. Fuller explains:
The conference-call style of town halls is nothing new, nor has its use been restricted to Democrats. But for some lawmakers back in their districts this month to talk about health care, the tele-town hall is shaping up as a refreshing option to forums that make possible confrontations with protesters….
…Thousands of participants can join tele-town halls. Representatives provide call-in numbers and access codes to their constituents through robo-calls, Web sites and newsletters. Members of Congress say the phone sessions are a more convenient way to reach constituents, especially elderly and disabled constituents who might not attend an in-person event.
“You can talk to thousands of people all over the state all at once in a format that allows everyone to be heard,” said Jon Summers, a spokesman for the Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid. “What we’ve seen with other town halls is the dialogue that people are used to isn’t being allowed to occur.”
Fuller reports that Rep. Heath Shuler (D-NC) has scheduled two tele-town hall meetings for August. Shuler aide Douglas Abrahms said he expects the tele-town halls to “catch on quickly.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who conducted a tele-town hall meeting in July with 30,000 participants (OK, mostly listeners), is setting up another one. “You can talk to thousands of people all over the state all at once in a format that allows everyone to be heard,” explains Reid aide Jon Summers.
The tele-town hall meeting strategy allows progressives to manage the environment in a way that encourages civil discussion of concerns, instead of discordant yelling contests. Predictably, the Republicans are attacking the tele-town halls as anti-democratic, primarily because there is no way to disrupt them. But tele-town hall advocates could respond that the comparison between the live and tele-town hall meetings as educational forums is like the difference between ‘shock jock’ radio and NPR.
Some Democratic members of congress may be able to handle the live town hall meetings to their advantage, assuming they can have some control over the environment, by demonstrating their maturity and sobriety in comparison to the screaming GOP shills. And it may be that the astroturfers’ protests will peak too soon, or even better, start to turn off increasing numbers of people. For many Dems, however, the tele-town hall meeting approach is a creative alternative to the Republicans’ obstruction campaign.