Early on August 5th, as the corporate-funded, Limbaugh/Beck incited violence was just starting to roll, John McCain sent out a tweet: "Town hall meetings are an American tradition -- we should allow everyone to express their views without disruption -- even if we disagree!" He led; few in his party followed.
Thursday evening South Carolina Republican Congressman Bob Inglis -- first elected in 2004; re-elected last year with 61% of the vote -- went a step further. Inglis is a mainstream conservative with a fairly lockstep party-line voting record. But he's more in the Lindsey Graham camp than the KKK/Jim DeMint camp in South Carolina politics. Thursday he felt the wrath of the KKK/Jim DeMint camp when he held a town hall meeting to talk with his constituents about health care reform, which he opposes. The 350 constituents who showed up oppose it too -- but they oppose a lot more than just health care reform and they were hell bent on having their say.
The loudest part of the crowd seemed to have its mind made up before Inglis even began talking scolding him and applauding anyone who referenced the Constitution or denounced socialism. A man against the wall held a sign that stated Congress & CNN have awakened a sleeping giant.
One man stood up, said he considered himself a mainstream conservative and said, "I look at the government, and they're so far outside the Constitution and there's not a week that goes by that I don't hear talk about revolution in our country. The only one I know in Congress who abides by our Constitution is Ron Paul."
A standing ovation followed.
...Inglis had to point out that he did not think health care was a right, and he even had to remind people that he was a Republican, not a Libertarian. He did say, when asked, that if the current health care plan passes, he will opt out of the plan he has by virtue of his office and join the rest of us.
But the crowd was restless.
At one point, Inglis had to say, "You may not believe me, but I really don't have any secret plan to get you vaccinated."
Revved up by pent-up, self-righteous rage, too much Fox News, and enabled by corporately-funded astro-turf operations, many in the audience were looking for trouble. One man started screaming that "There is no way, shape or form we need to have a national health care system. No! Nothing!! None! It's got to stop now!" They heckled and shouted down Inglis even as he tried to tell them he opposes the health care legislation the Democrats are trying to pass. (By the way, if you're interested, in how badly South Carolinians are doing health care-wise and how the proposed legislation would help them specifically, there's a very informative report from the Center For American Progress, explaining, among other things, that South Carolina's uninsured rate has increased by 17% since 2007, that there are 760,000 uninsured people in the state and that the average family premium there will rise from $12,659 to $21,602 by 2019 without health care reform. Not the kind of information Inglis was interested in giving or this audience would have been receptive to in the slightest.) Instead they wanted to talk about forcing immigrants to be sent back to their countries, about the dangers of Obama declaring martial law, about Obama forcing them to get vaccinated, and about the horrors of Big Government. Inglis was mercilessly boo-ed when he suggested that in some cases government can play a positive role in people's lives.
But the most calamitous moment in the meeting came when someone in the audience asked about fear mongering by Hate Talkers like Glenn Beck. "What I would suggest," said Inglis, "is turn that television off when he comes on." The place exploded in rage and many got up and left -- in effect, turning off Inglis, not Beck. Watch the video of an uncomfortable conservative Republican congressman facing his fascist base, reaping what his party has sown. Later Inglis talked with a local blogger who asked him if people exploded because he had used the word "fear-mongering" in relation to Beck:
"Probably," Inglis said. "That's what he does. That's what Glenn Beck is all about. And Lou Dobbs. I've had the misfortune of listening to those shows a couple of times... I don't listen often to Glenn Beck, but when I have, I've come away just so disappointed with the negativity... the 'We've just gone to pot as a country,' and 'All is lost' and 'There is no hope.' It's not consistent with the America that I know. The America I know was founded by people who took tiny boats across a big ocean, and pushed west in tiny wagons, and landed on the moon. That's the America I heard on the streets of Boiling Springs... The America that Glenn Beck seems to see is a place where we all should be fearful, thinking that our best days are behind us. It sure does sell soap, but it sure does a disservice to America... If Walter Cronkite said something like Glenn Beck said recently on the air, about the president being a racist, Cronkite would've been fired on the spot. But I guess the executives of these cable news shows are more enamored with the profits that come from selling this negative message than they are with undermining the faith of people in this wonderful constitutional republic."
This morning I was on the phone with a very different kind of politician than Bob Inglis. Doug Tudor is a retired career Navy man who is running for Congress in the Polk County area of Florida, a seat being abandoned by Adam Putnam and also being contested by a far right Republican and an only slightly less far right Blue Dog. Doug is a progressive who very much believes in the good that government can do in people's lives and in the need to bring health care reform to this country. He's a grassroots candidate -- with no corporate funding -- and I want to ask you to read his account of a health care town hall he attended last week and then to think about donating -- even if only $5 or $10 -- to his ActBlue page:
"During Kathy Castor's health care town hall meeting on Thursday night, I sat in the second row with my 14-year-old daughter, Hannah. I saw firsthand the hatred and violence being aroused by the orchestrated efforts of the rabid right. Ms. Castor had no more said, 'Good Evening,' when the booing, cursing, and shouting began. Taking firm middle ground, trying to talk about the benefits of reform for small business owners, retirees, and families, she never completed a full sentence due to the volume of the fanatical right. Shouting turned to shoving which turned to fistfights. It was a grotesque display of the ability of misinformation to turn people, whom I guess are otherwise decent folks, into brown-shirted thugs on behalf of insurance industry profits. The leaders of the Republican Party, as well as Blue Dog Democrats, need to take an unequivocal stand against the hate speech being spewed by Limbaugh, Beck, and their ilk. If not, they can hold themselves personally responsible for the violence that will eventually befall one of our legislators. As for me, I will no longer allow my children to attend political functions out of concern for their safety."
This morning Mike Lux, author of my favorite book of this summer, The Progressive Revolution posted a question for GOP leaders at Open Left: What would it take for you to condemn the hatefulness?
Glenn Beck has said Barack Obama hates white people, and jokes about assassinating the Speaker of the House. Rush Limbaugh makes repeated and extended comparisons between Obama and Hitler. Mobs hang a congressman in effigy and physically attack people at a town hall meeting.
Members of Congress have death threats issued against them, while other Members make jokes about lynching their colleagues.
With all of this hateful and violent rhetoric going on, I haven't seen one Republican leader asking for people to cool their rhetoric, or heard them condemn any of these tactics. My question for Republican party, and their allies at conservative media companies that employ the kind of people making these remarks: what exactly would have to be said for you to distance yourself from these people? How far would someone have to go before you got uncomfortable with it? What would have to said before Fox News considered firing someone?
If Glenn Beck actually directly called for the assassination of someone, would it bother you guys? If Rush Limbaugh just screamed a racial insult referring to the President of the United States into his microphone, would it make you pause at all? If Lou Dobbs went so far as to call for the murder of random Hispanics in the street, would CNN consider firing him? If Michael Savage actually encouraged a caller to his show to go blow up a federal building like Timothy McVeigh did, would any Republicans suggest he pull his rhetoric back a bit?