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How do you handle several hundred grown up, angry children? Claire did it with sweet reason and the occasional–but only effective because she hardly ever resorted to it–Mom voice. As Clark pointed out, one of the best quotes of the day was her observation, early on, that “This can’t be about who’s the loudest,” spoken not angrily or condescendingly but with sweet reason.

Ten minutes later, as the right wing noise made speaking nigh impossible, she finally managed to get this argument in: “Do you see how many people want to speak? Do you want to be fair?”

But there was little she said that didn’t elicit jeers and yelling, usually from the same few loudmouths. Within thirty feet of me, there were half a dozen middle aged males who frequently screamed their displeasure.

Generally, Claire stuck to answering the questions, rather than trying to sell the crowd on universal health care. And it was interesting how those questions were selected. She asked those adamantly opposed to reform to raise their hands. Then she selected two women in the front row who had raised their hands to pick questions from two fish bowls for her to answer. In two hours, I don’t think I heard more than two or three questions that didn’t come from critics of reform. I don’t know whether the ladies were tossing aside the questions they didn’t like or whether the right wingers were more prolific question writers–because there were certainly plenty of liberals in the house.

Speaking of the liberals, they did occasional shushing, but they were much more subdued than those who attended the Carnahan event. It was almost as if they had decided en masse to give the wingers all the room they needed to show what kind of people they are. I spoke to a gentleman after the event and asked him whether he was pro-reform, anti-reform or undecided. He said that he was undecided, but that, given the behavior he had seen today, he leaned toward pro-reform.

To give you a sense of what Claire handled for two hours, watch her field a question about how unfair a public option would be to private insurers:

Did you catch that about the co-ops? I’m disgusted with her. The only thing I see that we can do about that is to visit her office in small groups to express our arguments against that. Certainly yelling at a town hall about it would do nothing but show that we’re fools.

She saw that behavior today. We need to get busy with a different tactic.