I haven’t been pleased by some of the shout-downs and shoving we’ve seen at Congressional town hall meetings this August (well, maybe just a little pleased). But there’s a heavy dose of hypocrisy when the calls for civility and reasoned debate come from folks on the political left.
We rarely hear such complaints when the “angry mob” is advancing a “progressive” cause: when certain politically-incorrect speakers are shouted down on campus; when the anti-war protests of the 1960s got raucous; when anti-free trade groups disrupt international economic conferences; when environmentalists loudly protest logging projects or other alleged attacks on the planet.
More annoying than the double standard, though, are condescending White House lectures on how the rest of us ought to behave in the presence of His Eminence, Barack Obama, when he blesses fly-over country with an audience later this week.
Here are a few paragraphs from Monday’s Grand Junction Sentinel:
"At the same White House press briefing in which it was announced the President will be coming to Grand Junction to possibly host a town hall meeting here, the tensions at similar style meetings across the country was touched upon.
“I will tell you this,” Robert Gibbs, White House press secretary told media on Friday, according to a White House transcript, “The President believes, and has always believed, that town hall meetings are a very useful place for the discussion of issues to talk about the decisions that are facing him and the American people. They ought to be able to be conducted without shouting and shoving and pushing and people getting hurt.
I think we can have honest policy disagreements without being either disagreeable, or certainly without being violent.“And I think anybody that has a strong opinion should come to a town hall meeting, but also respect that others may want to also take part in the town hall meeting, or you know, may just want to listen to the debate. And if somebody is yelling, or if somebody particularly is being violent, I’m not entirely sure that helps the entire process for anybody involved.”
Coloradans don’t need lectures in civility from the White House spokesman. I understand that Democrats like treating most people like children, by promising cradle-to-grave paternalism. But it's still insulting to hear them talking to the rest of us as if we were unruly kids who need a time out.
The shouting and finger-pointing may not follow the debating rules of the Oxford Union, but it does deliver a message, loud and clear, that not everyone is embracing ObamaCare. Whether this is a minority opinion won’t be determined until next election season. But that’s beside the point, since the art of protest is the art of making even a minority view seem politically potent.
It’s an art that the political left mastered long ago. Anti-war protesters of the 1960s didn’t represent the majority view (if I recall the polling data correctly), but they changed national policy by grabbing headlines. Environmental extremism isn’t the majority view in America, yet greens are driving the regulatory agenda through agitation, litigation and indoctrination. Loud and angry protest has been one important way the left exerts influence. But red flags go up when the protest comes from the right.
It’s equally odd to see those who elected a former community organizer president trying to discredit the ObamaCare backlash as the work of “conservative organizers.” Many recent news stories seem to go out of their way to make such connections. Yet I rarely see such labeling when liberal groups are involved.
America’s long and proud history of dissent wouldn’t have been possible without behind-the-scenes organizers. This never before delegitimized these events as bellwethers of public opinion. The anti-war protests of the 1960’s weren’t just spontaneous eruptions. Freedom marches in the South were planned and organized (thanks to “ringleaders” and “agitators” like the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.). The American Revolution got a helping hand from organizer Sam Adams. Abolitionists and prohibitionists also had organizers.
Today, it seems, protests are only legitimate expressions of public sentiment when they’re organized by the left. Protesters become an angry “mob” when they oppose left-wing policy prescriptions. It’s a sign of how far the former “counterculture” has come, in terms of becoming the new “establishment,” that it can’t recognize the weird irony in this line of attack.