Last night’s Health Care Town Hall with Frank Pallone in Red Bank was at once a magnificent exercise in democracy, and an unsettling display of ignorance and free-floating right-wing resentments – abortion, “illegals,” guns – spilling out of people willing to treat politics as sport, and shout down all comers.
A few people came with intelligently-expressed questions, support, or objections. But last night was owned by the loons. It all spun down to rabble early, and it almost never let up.
In 1953, Arthur Miller wrote a play about the 1692 Salem, Massachusetts witch trials, his allegorical commentary on his own time, when HUAC and Senator Joe McCarthy manufactured enemies of ordinary Americans. Sitting there last night, surrounded, I was reminded of The Crucible.
In it, Abigail Williams is the teenager who whips the girls around her into a frenzy, shouting out wild accusations, utterly taken by the passion of the moment, and completely manipulated by a girl acting in her own self-interest, and willing to ruin peoples’ lives. When another girl, Mary, is about to prove her a fraud, she whips her friends into a delirious panic, screaming they’re freezing, that Mary has bewitched them. In moments, Abilgail’s cries are the girls’ cries, and they are all screaming the same word. It’s a neat trick.
Last night’s Abigail Williams was a man in a light blue tee shirt bearing the date the next Congress is seated. His were the words that rifled around the room, in seconds. And it was all stupid.
To a woman fearful of losing her house to medical bills: Good! Lose your house! Lose your house! House! House! Houuuuuuuse!
When Margaret Mead was mentioned: What part of the jungle did you come from? Kumbaya! Kumbaya! Kumbayaaaaaaa!
When a mother tried to say how her disabled daughter and mentally disabled husband were dropped by their insurance: His fault! He couldn’t fill out the form because he’s an idiot! idiot! idiot!
Many times, the room just erupted in disconnected, incoherent drivel:
I wish your mother believed in abortion, Frankie!
Drill, baby, drill!
ACORN! ACORN! ACORN!
And this: Is Ted Kennedy dead yet?
Real objections – and support, and questions – about the public option were drowned out by a mob certain they’d been denied power, and determined to flex it hard. So sure their rights to “the First Amendment” were being taken, that they made certain no one else could be heard. It was crazy. And it did not need to be.