Town hall anger

“The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s ‘death panel’ so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their ‘level of productivity in society,’ whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil.”

So declared Sarah Palin on a recent Facebook note.

In reality, the health care reform proposed by the Obama administration allows Medicare to pay for voluntary end-of-life counseling. This provision was actually introduced by Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Georgia. That’s right, a republican. Unfortunately, Sarah Palin is not the only one distorting the truth. Leading republicans like Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House, and Senator Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, have also claimed the bill proposes a “death panel.”

The idea that Obama supports a “death panel” has helped lead to angry citizens storming recent town hall meetings. The actions of some of these town hall mobs have ranged from the ironic (“Keep the government out of my Medicare!”) to the paranoid (“You should be afraid of Obama! We are all afraid of Obama!”) to the downright scary (Rep. Brian Baird, D-NM, has not held any town hall meetings because of death threats he has received).

Many of these town hall mobs have been organized by grass-roots organizations, but interest groups have played an important role. The two major conservative interest group organizations behind some of these town hall mobs are FreedomWorks and Conservatives for Patients’ Rights. The former has even released a memo explaining how to confront your Democratic congressmen at town hall meetings. The organization suggests that conservatives try to get their people in the front half in order to create the impression that the majority agrees with them. As Stephen Colbert put it, “This beats the old strategy of actually having the majority agree with you.”

Interest groups and politicians are not the only ones responsible for misinformation. The blame also falls on irresponsible news organizations, like, in particular, Fox News. During a town hall meeting, Rep. Bob Inglis, R-SC, asked an attendee why she was afraid of Barack Obama. The crowd suggested that the congressman watch Glenn Beck, a host on the Fox News Channel that has often propagated the myth of “death panels” and has a strong dislike for Barack Obama, recently calling him a “racist.” Rep. Inglis replied, “Turn that television off when he comes on.” The crowd began to boo their representative and many left the building.

President Obama has renewed efforts to combat misinformation by holding various town hall meetings, but will his words fall on deaf ears? In a recent town hall meeting being held by Sen. Arlen Specter, D-PA, a woman claimed she was angry because she didn’t want “this country turning into Russia, turning into a socialized country.” The woman was later asked what she thought about Sen. Specter’s response. She replied that she was so emotional that she “didn’t hear half of what he said.”