The Americans for Prosperity (AFP) sponsored meeting last week (July 27) with a representative of Senator Claire McCaskill, offered a good preview of what we can expect to see during the month of August when our congress people will be holding meetings to discuss health care with constituents. In earlier postings both Hotflash and I (here, here, here and here) have touched on the aura of intimidation, and some of the more overtly dishonest story lines that many of the AFP-affiliated Tea Party folks seem to have swallowed hook-line-and-sinker.
One of the more amusing refrains at the meeting was that health insurance reform legislation was being rushed through before Congress members had a chance to even read it. These claims are extremely naïve because they don’t take into account the role that congressional staff often play in reading and analyzing legislation for their employers — and doing it really fast when necessary — as well as the fact that most of the provisions have been widely debated and that their implications are well understood by all but the dimmest bulbs in the congress.
The gob-smacking comedy occurs, however, when this ginned-up outrage at the failure of congress to do its homework, is accompanied by “evidence” of the horrors that the claimant believes to be in the legislation. These “facts” are often based on what the speaker claims to be a first hand reading of some legislative document — but with the obvious if usually unacknowledged assistance of interpretive scripts that organizations like the AFP are passing out.
The impulse to laughter begins to fade, however, when one realizes that such false readings of in-process legislation are becoming ubiquitous. And it is right to be worried about these lies and distortions, even though they are easy to deconstruct (see, for instance, here), and many articles can be found on sites like Factcheck.org and Mediamatters.org that deal with specific claims (e.g., euthanasia (also debunked here), abortion vs. elder care, a “Canadian” style government takeover of health care that will eliminate choice, exaggerated and out-right false false claims about the costliness of reform).
What is really troubling is that, patently false as these lies are, they are being effectively used to provide the justification for the hysteria and organized disruption that is already starting to play out at meetings held by legislators. You can see for yourself in the video below how these hyped-up hooligans are making a farce out of gatherings where, otherwise, our lawmakers might be able to hear all of our opinions and take some of our real questions:
Certainly we need to be prepared with the facts about about the false claims the Tea Party contingent are vigorously pushing, but we cannot waste too much precious time debating outrageous fantasies that we and our legislators (even the ones fanning the fervor of the Tea Party Dupes) knew to be false before the debate even started. Nor can we let the wild tantrums of the poorly socialized and the emotionally disturbed distract us from making the case we need to make for a strong public option. These people must not be allowed to set the agenda for August.
My question is how do we respond to this well-organized program of lies and intimidation? Will we have the requisite numbers at town hall meetings to voice our concerns? Are there groups that are organizing letter writing parties and phone-calls-to-congress sessions and I just don’t know about it? Can anyone enlighten me?
On the micro-level the question is, of course, will you be at the next public meeting with your congress person? How many letters and emails will you write? How many phone calls will you make?
ADDENDA: After a day of reporting on the Tea Bagger disruptions, Josh Marshall of TPM puts the issue succinctly.