A series of health care town halls are being planned across Portland and the state this week to be hosted by Oregon Congressmen David Wu, Peter DeFazio, and Earl Blumenauer—to gather feedback on President Barack Obama's plans for health reform. Well, okay, Blumenauer intends to do a pair of "telephone town halls," but I don't altogether blame him for retreating from making a public appearance after the hostile reception Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley got in rural Madras, Oregon, on Sunday, August 2.
"I was really embarrassed," says Madras Pioneer News Editor Holly Gill, who covered the meeting. She says 200 people attended, many of whom interrupted the senator with aggressive off-topic questions about immigration, and who booed Merkley's responses. "There was just no interest in a civil discourse, people were very disrespectful. Afterward I apologized to the senator and his staff because that is not how Madras people behave. Even when there are differences of opinion they are always respectful."
"The event was certainly spirited," says Merkley spokesman Marc Siegel.
Gill thinks the Deschutes County chapter of teabagging group Americans for Prosperity (AFP) bussed some of the protesters in for the town hall—a claim denied by the AFP Deschutes chair, Lucy Brackett. "I know some of our people were there," she says. "But it wasn't an organized effort. Nobody was bussed in."
Whether the efforts are "organized" or not, sources say staffers for the Democratic congressmen are nervous about their town halls being hijacked by right-wingers as they have been across the country in the past week—with arrests and violence at similar events in Tampa and St. Louis. Irony of ironies: An anti health-reform protester in St. Louis who got in a fight with some union members is now looking for online donations to cover the cost of treating his injuries—because he has no health insurance.
The best way to respond to these ideologues is with information. Rumors are being spread, for example, that the president's reforms are an effort to promote euthanasia for old people to cut costs. But the truth is, America's health care costs will double over the next decade if something isn't done. The president's health reform plan aims to reduce costs, guarantee choice, and ensure adequate quality care for everyone. If you like your current plan, you'll be able to keep it, and nobody will be denied coverage because of a preexisting condition.
I challenge anybody to take that message and successfully hijack it.