During the contentious health care reform debates, Democratic lawmakers convened town hall meetings to answer questions and promote the idea that finally, after years of conservative obstruction, America was close to implementing a system that enabled nearly every American to have affordable health care coverage. The Democrats soon discovered that Fox News had convinced teabaggers that health care reform was a Socialist plot to kill Americans and the town halls became Inquisition chambers for the legislators. The protestors, spurred on by Dick Morris’s Gestapo-like tactics of screaming in unison, spontaneous renditions of patriotic songs, and random recitations of the pledge of allegiance, successfully disrupted the meetings and in the process, deprived the Democrats and public from engaging in real discourse that is necessary in deciding critical issues like health care reform. The spectacle of citizens screaming at Democrats was deliberately orchestrated and televised on the nightly news and in spite of claims to the contrary, was not a grass-roots movement. Fast forward to 2011 and a similar scenario is being played out across the country.
When Republicans took control of the House in January, one of their primary tasks was dealing with the budget and controlling spending. The 2012 Path to Prosperity budget proposal by House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) is the Republican’s vision for the future of America and reveals the corporatist inclination inherent in conservative philosophy. The Republican proposal lays out a bleak future for Americans who have toiled under the illusion that hard work and shared sacrifice will pay off in old age as well as maintain America’s greatness in the world. The Path to Prosperity budget is co-opted by the Heritage Foundation, and they were at the forefront in promoting the budget immediately after Ryan submitted it for the media’s approval.
The budget proposal is alleged to change America’s course according to the Heritage Foundation, and to some degree, they are correct. However, the changes Ryan proposes are not new; they are a continuation of the slash and burn spending proposals Republicans have practiced for decades. Of course, tax cuts for the rich, education cuts, and corporate entitlements will not create jobs as the authors of the proposal contend and in fact, the Medicare and Medicaid cuts alone will be responsible for losing 2.1 million private-sector jobs over the next five years according to the Congressional Budget Office. The Heritage-Ryan budget was passed in the House along party lines and the Easter recess gave Republicans time to go to their home districts to boast to their constituents about the impending course change for America. The Republicans would convene their own town hall meetings and answer questions and promote the Path to Prosperity they already passed in the House.
Bolstered by an easy victory in passing the course-change budget, Republicans were anxious to hear their constituents praise them for privatizing Medicare and cutting taxes for the wealthy and corporations. However, the town hall meetings proved to be contentious, and unlike the health care town halls, the anger and rage aimed at Republicans was not orchestrated, but a true grass-roots movement. Apparently, Americans are not yet ready for the Republican course change, and Republicans find themselves in the untenable position of defending a wildly unpopular idea that, unlike health care reform, harms people instead of helping them.
There is a monumental difference between the health care town halls and the Path to Prosperity meetings. Democratic legislators took proposed legislation to their constituents for input and discussion before deciding whether to vote on such an important measure which is in keeping with democratic principles when making law. Many Democrats voted according to their constituent’s reactions to the proposed health law in spite of the benefits voters lost out on if the bill failed to pass. The objections and disruptions Democrats faced were from well-organized tea party operatives who were coached on how best to disrupt the meetings so there would never be questions or answers; in many cases, the legislators never had the opportunity to explain the bill’s features. Republicans and tea party leaders were very successful in stopping the discussions before they ever started and the effect was a public that never really understood what health care reform meant for them.
Republicans’ town halls were in their own heavily conservative districts and their constituents were not planted by the opposition, but were made up of Republicans anxious to hear for themselves what kind of budget the legislators already passed. The reactions to the budget and in particular, the Medicare privatization scheme gave the Republicans a taste of the anger and outrage Democrats faced during the health care reform debate. Audience members were irate that Republicans already voted to end Medicare at the same time they gave tax cuts to the wealthy and corporations. The budget’s co-author, Paul Ryan had questioners removed by police instead of having the courage to explain his actions, and one GOP freshman, Rep. Rick Crawford (R-AR) shut down the town hall meeting after difficult questions about privatizing Medicare. Needless to say, Republicans can dish out disruption at Democrats’ town halls, but they can’t take legitimate questions from their own supporters.
The town hall meetings on health care and Republicans’ budget showed two important differences in governing style that characterize the disparity in the two political parties. Republicans did not consult their constituents before voting on a budget that adversely affects every American except the extremely wealthy, and the opposition they faced was from their own supporters who wondered why they ended Medicare instead of raising taxes on the wealthy and corporations. Conversely, Democrats took a proposal to their constituents before voting on the bill and faced opposition from right wing plants, but didn’t have police evict the protesters. Democrats tend to adhere to principles of democracy and Republicans pass laws on their own in spite of the damage they cause.
It is good for Republicans to see that their governing style and policies are not what Americans want from their representatives. It’s also good to see that even Republicans’ supporters have a limited tolerance for being treated despicably before they say enough. One would think that Paul Ryan would have noticed the outrage at Scott Walker’s actions in his home state, but arrogance tends to blind people to reality when they get a taste of power and money from the Heritage Foundation. America is awakening from a drunken stupor that allowed Republican legislative malfeasance to send the economy into a ditch and they are voicing their anger at a change of course that will destroy the middle class and doom elderly Americans to poverty and life without health care. Perhaps between now and the lead up to the 2012 elections, Republican supporters will see that Republican governance is underhanded and contemptible, and choose to separate from the GOP because now they know the issues are not up for discussion. In fact, it is quite evident the Republicans, like dictators, make laws and jail dissenters for asking questions like they do in Iran, North Korea, and Saudi Arabia.