Congressman Adam Smith held one of the infamous Town Hall meetings yesterday night in Tacoma. A little under 2,000 folks showed up, filling a high school football stadium in Lakewood. It was an appropriate setting, given that half the people were there carrying signs protesting what the half were doing. There was even a section for the visiting team. Maybe for out-of-district Astroturfers who were shipped in to disrupt the proceedings?
Go Team! Fight! W-I-I-I-I-I-N, tonight!
(As an admission, I've been up in Alaska for more than two months learning about the commercial fishing industry. A few weeks ago, e-mails from friends and family began reaching Bristol Bay during the few times I had Internet access saying, "You need to get back here and see these Town Hall meetings on health care. People are going ape-shit crazy!")
After seeing many of the infamous YouTube videos, there was that primordial part of me hoping to see fisticuffs in the bleachers, with Town Hall participants beating each other over the head with signs while pouring Fair Trade coffee over each other. But then again, this is Washington state, and Washingtonians are ever so polite. And Washingtonians never resort to direct confrontation, not when the passive-aggressive option is available.So it was in the atmosphere of a raucous homecoming game that Smith, a moderate Democrat, tried to keep some semblance of order, playing referee to one half of the mass who expected the other half to pay for their medical care even though the second group can barely pay for their own health insurance.
(As a note, journalists must adhere to the AP Style Guide describing Smith as a moderate. It's in our computer software and a reporter can get banned from happy hour parties if we describe the Tacoma Democrat as anything other than middle of the road)
For the Congressman's part, he said he would vote no on this particular legislation - as it stands now. That last part is an important caveat for any politician. Chatting with Rep. Smith after the event, he sounded a bit miffed at Democrat leadership for having this particular health care bill forced on him.
"The people who put this together should have been more mindful," Smith vented.
When asked if this was him waggling his finger at Democrats in the House (i.e Speaker Nancy Pelosi), the Senate and President Barack Obama who are pushing this health care package, Smith was quick to parse the question by saying he doesn't wag fingers.
Told you Washingtonians are polite.
But with superfluous riders stapled onto this bill like ornaments on a Christmas tree, even the mild-mannered Mr. Smith was driven to ask why a slimmer, more simpler package couldn't be put forward.
"There are 20 pages about anti-discrimination and more boards and studies than you can imagine. Do we have to do this?" he asked.
Tea Party Legacy:
Being one of the first writers to actually cover the Tea Party movement (which began here in Seattle) it isn't much of a surprise that these Town Hall events have grown to be such exciting affairs. Conservative Republicans who had a lousy presidential candidate foisted upon them by the moderate wing of the party in the last election are finally becoming politically active. Usually for the first time.
This is a holistic movement where hundreds of thousands of individual people on their own accord are becoming politically active. Despite the angry cries from the left that somehow FOXNews is secretly issuing marching orders to Teabaggers, these aren't your typical rent-a-mobs that were the hallmark of Bush Administration. With a few key exceptions, they seem to be just average middle and lower middle class people, trying to pay their bills, who are fed up with a government that is getting too big and too intrusive.
The telling bit of politics will be whether moderate Democrat politicians in swing districts - like Smith - will get cold feet over instituting universal health care. And if they do, how will it play at the ballot box?
Scribbling on a notebook and taking photos at any event kind of makes a fella stand out. And at yesterday's Town Hall I had the stench of press weasel all over me. As people filed out of Harry Lang Stadium, a middle-aged man wearing a yellow "Don't Tread On Me" t-shirt stopped me to pass along some vital information.
Don't Tread: Are you a journalist?
Me: No. I'm a reporter.
Don't Tread: (blinking) Do you know who wrote the health care plan?
Me: (smiling through my beard) Nope. I've been on the Alaska tundra for two months.
Don't Tread: (not sure if I'm pulling his leg) Bet you even the Congressman doesn't know.
Me: (Leaning forward eagerly) So who is it?
Well. I'm glad that clears that whole question up...
A lot can be made about the differences between Americans politically. Republicans versus Democrats. Liberals versus Conservatives. Cowboys versus Redskins. The schism between those who want to increase the size and scope of government intrusion into every aspect of citizen's lives is diametrically opposed by those on the other end of the political spectrum who want to slash apart the budget of the federal government with a Stihl chainsaw.
For my money, it is time for Americans to put aside their petty disagreements about defense spending or Social Security and join hands by beating the crap out of every single Lynden LaRouche whackjob that can be found.
It's bi-partisan. The politician who runs on this platform will be swept into office with powers that would make martial law seem like anarchy.
The only ugly incident at the Town Hall meeting came from a LaRouche punk, your typical brainwashed twenty-something dirtbag, who tried to instigate a riot at the stadium by waving a three foot tall picture of President Barack Obama sporting an Adolph Hitler mustache.
What was heartening is that it was more Republicans (or conservatives) who objected to the sign. They might not have voted for Obama. They might not agree with anything he stands for. But they were damned if they were going to allow some jobless loser to hijack the Town Hall by portraying the President of the United States in such a despicable matter.
As is usually the case, it was a couple old veterans who took it upon themselves to rip the Obama-Hitler sign out of the LaRouchey's hands, sending him packing.
As a suspiciously large number of union members left the stadium en masse at around 8:30 p.m someone shouted out from the stands.
"You're bus is here Astroturfers!!! Time to go home."
It was difficult to gauge how many people who showed up at the Town Hall actually were from the Ninth District. About one fourth of the people were wearing a shirt or toting a sign printed off by some political organization or the other.
Planned Parenthood. Campaign For Liberty. Veterans For Peace. Walmart Workers for Change. One America (advocating health care for illegal immigrants). A crazy, old lady holding an six-foot tall picture of an aborted fetus protesting Planned Parenthood. Socialist Alternatives. Anti-Federal Reserve black helicopter types.
Save Our Sonics:
Of course it wouldn't be a large public gathering without the Save Our Sonics guy. Sporting a hairdo that would make the Bride of Frankenstein proud, Kris Brannon, a Tacoma standup comedian is continuing to block-out in the paint for the team, reminding people to boycott Starbucks, contact their state legislators and to get Mayor Greg Nickels out of office.
We've got one out of three brother. And so far, that ain't bad.
Stacy DeLong (center above) is a Seattle resident who came down to Lakewood. Although Planned Parenthood is seen by many as a controversial organization being an abortion provider, DeLong said it is important that the organization be included in the health care debate since it serves millions of Americans by providing birth control and cancer screening.
"We're here to advocate for health reform that includes reproductive health services."
About thirty or more signs (mostly from the folks who support universal health care) were left littered all about the stadium grounds after the event was over. A couple of Pierce County Republican activists managed to convince a liberal-type to pick up the trash.
Eric Seeley, an unemployed Tacoma resident, came out in opposition to universal health care. Although he said that the pragmatic thing would be to accept a government handout, he said his principles spoke otherwise.
"This is forcing the government to be a charitable organization instead of churches, charitable clinics and individual families helping one another."
A good many Democrats and folks from the left side of the political spectrum get their undergarments in a sweaty knot when righties describe universal health care as "socialism". Maybe it's because the Socialist Workers Party is out there advocating for it?