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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

The Invisible Town Hall Meetings

Don’t be shocked. But apparently not all of the Town Hall Meetings being held across the country can be likened to episodes of the Jerry Springer Show, as John Stanton reports in his Roll Call article “Democrats Orchestrate Town-Hall Counterpunch.”

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs on Thursday argued that despite extensive media coverage of the protests at some lawmakers’ town halls, “I hate to break it to you: I don’t think all the town halls are as you’re seeing them on TV. … While I appreciate that you all have decided that every town-hall meeting ends in pushing, shoving and yelling, I don’t think many, well, I don’t know how many town halls you all have been to. They’re not completely indicative of what’s going on in America.”
The DNC released a statement arguing that “outside the echo chamber of 24-hour cable news, Americans all across the country are attending town halls, holding coffee shop conversations and engaging in respectful, honest debates about the best way to achieve health insurance reform.”
The DNC release pointed to events in North Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania, California, Indiana, Ohio, Washington state and other areas that have not featured the kind of ugly protests that have been the focus on national news reports…Similarly, Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (Calif.) office Thursday afternoon released a similar “fact sheet” detailing events where no protests occurred.

At The Atlantic‘s ‘Politics Blog’, Chris Good adds:

…Freshman Rep. Eric Massa (D-NY), who unseated a Republican in typically conservative upstate New York to enter Congress this year, held a town-hall with 200 constituents that “felt Lincoln-esque in its nature,” according to the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle; Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) thought the audience members were “respectful” at a recent event, despite sometimes contentious debate; opponents of health care reform filled up “about half the seats” at a town-hall hosted by Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA), according to a post on Daily Kos, but no disruptions occurred; “this is democracy,” Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI) said after an event in her district that drew opponents and supporters of reform alike.
The liberal group Americans United for Change (part of the liberal interest-group coalition backing the Democratic/Obama health care reform initiative), likewise blasted out a similar list of peaceful town-halls via e-mail, including a video link to local news coverage of one in Charlottesville, Virginia, where freshman Rep. Tom Perriello (D) was backed up by a predominantly pro-reform crowd…The group forwarded a Philadelphia Inquirer story, highlighting how a health care town-hall hosted by Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA) had gone similarly well.
“About 650 people – diverse in age, race, and occupation, but nearly all supporters of a health-care overhaul – last night crowded into a Center City church for a town meeting with U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak (D., Pa.) that, in sharp contrast to recent gatherings across the country, was overwhelmingly civil.,” the Inquirer reporters wrote.
Some of these examples are taken from strong Democratic districts; some are taken from swing districts and states recently represented by Republicans. The message is less that everyone is behind President Obama’s plan, and more that town-halls aren’t all messy, ugly disruptions–that while the media loves to talk about the frenzied unpleasantness, that’s not what’s going on everywhere, and August isn’t really just a big anti-health-care-reform bloodbath.
The new Democratic message is: civil discourse is happening around health care, and in that regard the White House is making progress on reform, with a healthy, national discussion. It’s not as sensational as a roomful of screamers, but if you read the papers, you’ll see it.

Stanton’s article cites polls indicating sympathy with the town hall protesters, after respondents viewed protests, and that is a concern. Wonder how they would have responded after watching the more numerous town hall meetings, like the one in Charlottesville, which were conducted with civility. Guess they weren’t deemed poll-worthy.

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