Judging by the first public meetings on health-care reform that members of Congress have begun convening in their districts, America is in Second Coming time, in the William Butler Yeats sense. The best may or may not lack all conviction, as Yeats wrote in his classic poem, but the worst are sure as hell full of passionate intensity.
Meyerson notes that the forces of progressivism — unions, for example — are not turning out crowds at town meetings to match the mobs. No, they aren’t, but I’m not sure they should. Unless the progressive counter-protesters are able to a person to be as nonviolent as Gandhi, such a confrontation could easily turn into a brawl. People could get hurt, even killed.
Of course, people are likely to be hurt or even killed anyway. I think it’s only a matter of time before somebody in the mob pulls a gun. It’s a wonder it hasn’t happened already.
I say the mobs are a test of my “Bigger Asshole” rule, that I have explained in posts in the past. Basically, the “Bigger Asshole” rule is that public protests work when the people being protested are perceived by the onlooking public to be bigger assholes than the protesters.
See also Sara Robinson, who writes about the importance of trust and inspiration. Mass protests that actually effect positive change tend to be those that inspire, not frighten and intimidate.
However, there have been times when angry mobs did effect change. The storming of the Bastille does come to mind. And where else in history can we find an example of a populist mob manipulated and supported by the conservative, moneyed elite? Hmmm?
Although there are times to step aside and let assholes be assholes, I don’t think ignoring the current organized mayhem is wise. But how should they be handled?
The DNC has put out this video:
I’m not sure this video is as effective as it could be — the scary voice-over is such a cliche — but it could be a step in the right direction.
I think it’s important to emphasize that many of the “mobsters” who attend townhall meetings to disrupt them are from other districts. I’m wondering what would happen if the congresspersons had people screened at the door, admitting only people with a driver’s license or other photo ID proving they live in the district. That’s not necessarily something I would endorse as standard policy, but it would be an interesting experiment.
See also this bit from Think Progress:
During the town hall, one conservative activist turns to his fellow attendees and asks them to raise their hands if they â€œoppose any form of socialized or government-run health care.â€ Almost all the hands shot up. Rep Green quickly turned the question on the audience and asked, â€œHow many of you have Medicare?â€ Nearly half the attendees raised their hands, failing to note the irony.
These are not people who can be reasoned with.