Wingnut Mobs and What to Do About Them

Harold Meyerson writes in his column today:

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 “oppose any form of socialized or government-run health care.” Almost all the hands shot up. Rep Green quickly turned the question on the audience and asked, “How many of you have Medicare?” Nearly half the attendees raised their hands, failing to note the irony.

These are not people who can be reasoned with.

23 thoughts on “Wingnut Mobs and What to Do About Them

  1. There was one instance of a town hall given by a legislator, I forget which, possibly the Sentaor from Aetna or Wellpoint who was met outside the venue with a large crowd wielding signs with pro-healthcare slogans. Now there’s an idea…and those inside should ask the difficult questions like how much their representative received from the healthcare and pharma industries, if they are one of those blocking healthcare reform.

    I doubt that would tip the “bigger asshole” scale in the other direction.

    That’s a far cry from the shout-down tactics and would be fitting for my US Representative who is Jane Harman, a corporate advocate, staunch ally of the defense industry and blue dog who will not give a public appearance until September. In a campaign that was more of an afterthought, starting 3 months before the election, her opponent in the last race was a schoolteacher named Marcy Winograd who got 30% of the vote.

    Some might recall Harman’s recorded conversation with someone in the Israeli government where it appears as if she was trading influence for help in landing some appointment to a position, a chairmanshp I believe.

    Screening for those in the district would be fair enough too.

  2. I don’t see a problem with screening them. I think it was mentioned in posts last week. Busing people in to disrupt meetings between representatives and their voters is not conducive to democracy.
    If you don’t live in that particular congressional district, what are you there for? You don’t have the right to vote anywhere but in your own district. This is NOT a 1st Amendment issue, as some will cry out. You can excersize your right in your particular district with your representative.

    I don’t see our side, though, emphasizing the point that Medicare, Medicaid and Tricare (the military) are already run by the government, and very effectively as regards to cost and care.
    I don’t understand why we’re not using that as a “teachable moment.” Rep. Green should not have let that pass. He should have asked them at that point if they were willing to give up their government care and pay for private health care. Maybe if it’s put that way, it’ll sink into their thick craniums.

  3. There was a highly rated diary last night on Daily Kos (Tea Baggers FAIL to Disrupt Health Care Meeting – Lessons Shared) that shows how to do it right. A key point:

    The local police were present inside and out, in force. The Congressman didn’t call them, nor did DANI [the meeting’s progressive organizers]. Our meeting was at a library. The Library staff got wind of the Tea Baggers and called the police well in advance. DANI officers were loath to go heavy. But, the police presence proved crucial to success. DANI just got lucky. Don’t leave this element to chance.

    Read the whole thing. It’s a script for success.

    Agree with you that the “Enough of the Mob” video is a bit heavy handed, but I’m glad to see that someone is trying to make sure the public knows what is going on, that basically these people are bullies.

    Do see GOP Rx: Wanna Be Healthy? Just Be Wealthy! Like Insurance Execs, a great ad that someone posted in the comment stream for the above diary.

  4. Nearly half the attendees raised their hands, failing to note the irony. I said this a couple of articles ago: Righties do not get irony. It goes right past them.

  5. This has Rove’s fingerprints all over it. Remember when during the Florida recount in 2000 hundreds of ‘protesters/hecklers/whatevers were flown in from all over the country to inject madness and mayhem into the scene? Pretty sure Rove engineered that little ugliness.

    You can bet Republicans ‘screen’ attendees to their events. (if they didn’t, Bush would have had more than a couple of shoes hurled in his direction during his 8 year mis-reign.) Which brings up the question – should Dems stoop to the level of Repubs or rise above them, in other words, should we ‘answer’ dirty tricks with our own dirty tricks or should we keep our hands ‘clean’ and, perhaps, lose elections and/or lose-out on important issues in the process.

    (Pat Pattillo – I’m also stuck with Harman, an ugly piece of work if there ever was one.)

  6. “— the scary voice-over is such a cliche — but it could be a step in the right direction.”


    Is there a different voice over track I’m not hearing?

    There was nothing of a “scary” nature in that person’s voice. Nothing remotely like “scary/horror” movie previews.

  7. From the Meyerson post:

    “But whatever the reasons, a mobilized minority is making a very plausible play to thwart a demobilized majority. ”

    Richard Nixon must be spinning in his grave. The silent majority is back, and this time it’s real. Those from the center to the left are being shouted down by an aging white minority determined to hold back the tide of multiculturalism that’s toppling the natural order of white-dominated rule. Ya can’t make this up, and you have to be an old white liberal to appreciate it.

    I disagree with giving way to these thugs. People gave way in Germany and Italy when fascism rose in this way. It was a mob minority in both countries who subverted the laws and constitutions of their own countries to install their dictators. I’m not eager to shed blood – mine or anyone elses – but I will not yield to these bullies. The risk is greater than you think.

  8. Your ‘bigger asshole’ rule is very sensible. Should we now dub it ‘the Maha Bigger Asshole principle’? Your ticket to fame and fortune?

  9. While there is a danger of a violent confrontation if those in favor of reform turn out, we shouldn’t ignore what will happen to so many people if the large insurance companies win. Many people, even those with insurance, will continue to be injured and even killed by the insatiable greed that runs those companies.

  10. I agree I think someone will pull at a gun at one of these mobs and lives may be lost. And as usual they will be liberal lives. I am tired of it and I think liberals should defend themselves to the full extent the law allows. If someone is going to die it should be these monsters.

  11. As always I’m just baffled by these people. Yesterday I was driving through Eastern Oregon and the only thing on the radio was old Rushbo Limbaugh. I fail to even wrap my head around even what he is trying to say… it seems to be a bunch of half sentences centered around government is always bad and the “liberals” have never done anything right. I know quite well his darn “ditto heads” would likely gain more than they would be harmed from these things… but they are blinded by the propaganda of the last 30 years that government doesn’t work. To be frank, I think we are all doomed!

  12. Crazy About UP,
    We are Rome in the last days of empire. We are headed for a big fall. I think the only way we can proceed as a nation is to disband the union. We are about as divided as we were right before the Civil War. I think we should have let the South go its own way then.
    Now, let those states that want to secede, go. They’ll mostly be southern states. And if others want to join them, more power to them. But once you’re gone, you’re gone.
    Maybe then, we’ll be able to build a country we could be proud of…

  13. >let the South go its own way then.
    Now, let those states that want to secede, go. They’ll mostly be southern states. And if others want to join them, more power to them. But once you’re gone, you’re gone.
    Maybe then, we’ll be able to build a country we could be proud of…<

    That is quite a comment. I am from the south and don’t think the country is struggling JUST because of the south.

  14. Seems like the core of the wingnuttyness resides inDallas and Houston TX.
    The Texas oil mafia projects their jihad from the ivory towers of Texas and Oklahoma.

  15. s,
    I lived in the south for 9 years.
    It’s not the only problem, by any stretch. But it is a large part of the problem. Look at polling stat’s and you see that they are far, far behind the rest of the country as far as progressive goals.
    If you look at the Republican party, as it exists today, it is a predominanatly southern party.
    I don’t mean to paint the entire south with a broad brush, but a lot of the the problems that we have either started there, or are centered there.
    Please tell me how I’m wrong if I say that the rest of the country wouldn’t move ahead a lot further if, let’s say the south suddenly change its mind overnight, woke up, and decided that race, sex, and sexual orientation were secondary to our goals as a nation.
    I could certainly be wrong. It wouldn’t be the first time… 🙂

  16. I would like to point out that if you think that

    “These are not people who can be reasoned with,” what is the purpose of non-violence? Non-violent action has at its core a basic belief that you can reason with adversaries based upon mutually recognizible common grounds.

    Tell me what recognizible common grounds these folks announce by their own violent actions, because I don’t see any.

    Do you expect some sort of epiphany to embrace reason from them once they see you flash them a peace sign? (They would just as likely bite off your fingers, would they not?)

    I think that belief, that these protesters are just like you and me has a massive amount of egotism fused through it.

    My life experience has led me to believe that it is futile to negotiate with people who have the morality and social conscience of cannibals. They respect only power and dispise as a personal flaw and weakness in their adversaries any attempts at logically wrought conciliation and tend to exploit it for personal gain.

    • kuvasz,

      I would like to point out that you cannot read. Or think too well, either. You write,

      Do you expect some sort of epiphany to embrace reason from them once they see you flash them a peace sign?

      I said they could not be reasoned with, didn’t I? Exactly what is your problem?

      Non-violence has two purposes that ought to be obvious to anyone with a brain, which apparently doesn’t include you:

      1. Countering violence with violence multiplies violence. That’s its only effect.

      2. You seem to think that the purpose of a counter-protest is to reason with protesters. That is absurd. The purpose of a non-violent counter-protest is to demonstrate to onlookers that our side is calm and reasonable and their side is not; see “bigger asshole” rule. A demonstration is only effective when whoever is being demonstrated is revealed to be a bigger asshole than the demonstrators.

      3. People who cannot read, or think, and who write belligerent comments, tend to get themselves banned. Read commenting rules.

  17. No, dear woman it’s apparently you with the lack of reading comprehension and quite thin skin. I made it abundantly clear that I agreed with your assessment of the protestors as being unreasonable, but simply added that your idea of using non-violent methods against them likely would not mollify their behavior.

    Since I never stated that the purpose of any counter protest is to reason with them, I can conclude well, nothing because all you have done is attempt to put words in my mouth so you can knock down a straw man argument.

    When you state that “The purpose of a non-violent counter-protest is to demonstrate to onlookers that our side is calm and reasonable and their side is not;” you are making an assumption about their intention; that it is theatre art. I don’t believe it is at all and I think that you are making a deadly assumption about the intent and behavior of the protestors. I believe that these people are intent on the physical intimidation of their adversaries, and don’t give a damn about how it appears to on-lookers.

    Let me quote from Orwell writing as the party hack/torturer O’Brien who states to Winston Smith about the purpose of the ruling INGSOC Party…..

    “Power is not a means, it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power.”

    The object of those protests was to protest and the direct intimidation of their adversaries. It was not theatre art intended to be booed or applauded by on-lookers.

    I don’t believe that physical intimidation can be met successfully without the underlying potential for violence in return. I wish to the God I pray to that this was not true, but my experience shows that it is.

    As to your threat of banishment; so be it, but you ought to recognize that your bile towards me is most likely not based upon my inability to read well, but is based upon you being piqued about referring to your own attitude being derived from your own ego. As one who practices Buddhism and the oblivion of the ego, that likely is a soft spot with you, and of course, your ego.

    Btw considering point three of your post, if you are at all honest with yourself, the person who ought to be banned is you, not me. I question whether you read better than me, or think better than me, and I post without the belligerence you have shown in your post to me.

    The site is yours. I will continue to read it for insights, but it remains clear that you are too sensitive to criticism, so this will be my last post to you.

    Oh and one thing, read more Orwell, especially “Homage to Catalonia.” Not only does he write well, he also lived through a time when sheer and violent thuggery held sway.

    Btw; just a simple thought experiment; have you ever thought about what the Nazis would have done to Mohandas Gandhi and his non-violent protestors? Likely they would be treated in the same manner as the denizens of the Warsaw Ghetto. Non-violent protest noble, but is effective only when you believe that your adversary is going to show some sort of basic humanity, otherwise you get slaughtered.

    Have a nice weekend.

  18. Kuvasz: If the point of the counter-protest isn’t to reason with the protesters (whom you agree are past reason) then the target matters, and the actions of the counterprotesters are important.

    Ghandi, and his followers, faced death. The British committed massacres. The world at large didn’t stand for it. The British (at home) didn’t stand for it. Churchill was livid that Mountbatten, “gave India away.”

    Non-violence works when one is willing to accept the risk of slaughter.

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