Thursday, September 03, 2009

Anatomy of a Town Hall Revisited

Anti-health care reform protesters are entitled to their say

In a competing op/ed column in the Tallahassee Democrat, Tallahassee arcitect Steve Tenance offers a distinctly different account of the health care forum at which Dr Andy Opel suggests he was intimidated.

Tenance suggests that the forum was Congresman Allen Boyd's method of ducking holding a town hall meeting:
"Rather than hold his own town hall meeting for constituents in Tallahassee as he did in many other areas of our district, Boyd allowed himself instead to be a 'panelist' along with two self-described local experts who support a single-payer, government-funded health care system. The 'lead sponsor' for the meeting was the clearly left-leaning, pro-government health care reform advocate Capital Area Community Action Agency, led by former Tallahassee mayor Dot Inman-Johnson. Inman-Johnson claimed that the event was intended to be 'educational, not political' and its purpose was to 'clear up some of the misinformation which only serves to confuse the public.' As if this weren't enough to clearly indicate the blatant bias of the meeting, there were 14 so-called 'co-hosts' as well, most of which, judging by their Web sites, were also pro-government health care proponents.

Does Inman-Johnson have a right to invite our congressman to meet with her special interest group to discuss health care reform? For sure, no less than any other group; however, this meeting should have been in addition to, not in lieu of Congressman's Boyd's own publicly held meeting. While Inman-Johnson made an attempt to appear fair, alternating questioners of opposing views, it was clear that the deck was stacked with invited special interest groups from only one side of the issue and hardly representing a cross-section of Allen Boyd's constituency.

The truth is that to 'sponsor' the event, Inman-Johnson's group had only to pay a fee of $25 per hour to City Hall, for a total cost of $75 for the three hours; and with 14 'co-host' groups, each was out only five bucks. What did all of these groups get in return, one might ask? The perk of 'sponsoring' and 'co-hosting' was that they did not have to wait in line with the rest of us common folk; they had advanced seating through a side door, while the rest of us waited in line for more than two hours. Pretty good return on their investment, I might say.

I arrived at City Hall at 4 pm and immediately took my place in line right outside the chamber doors, and by my count, I was in spot number 52. The City Commission chamber has 250 seats, but when we finally were let into the room, I had to scramble to find an empty seat. I realized then that the room had at least 150 people already seated, far above the 50 that Bill Cotterell reported the following day.

Judging by the applause during the event, it was clear that all of the people in the center of the room were the ones who were pre-seated. Had citizens holding the opposing view tried to pull off such a stunt, Inman-Johnson and her crowd would have been screaming foul and labeled us a mob that was trying to thwart the democratic process.

Why is it that people who support a proposed government takeover of our health care system are considered 'grassroots support' by the left, yet those who seek a different type of reform with less or no government intervention are called 'AstroTurf'? The real intent of this meeting was to influence opinion, not to provide an 'educational' forum for our congressman to meet with constituents for an open and honest discussion with the people he represents in the US Congress. I find the blatant double standards of the left to be frustrating, annoying and simply unacceptable, and I'm going to call it what it is every time I see it.

Congressman Boyd's office has confirmed that he will hold a real meeting with his constituents 'sometime in the fall,' and hold it in a suitable venue to accommodate as many as wish to attend. Let's hope it isn't too late for 'We the People' to participate in the process.
Tenance's account on the story is, oddly enough, just as telling as Dr Opel's, although not in a way that Dr Opel would prefer.

Tenance's tale is that of a congressman attempting to avoid discussing a contentious public issue with their constituents -- substituting (at least for the time being) a public meeting in which communication tends to flow one way for one in which two-way (or multi-directional) communication takes place.

Dr Opel's account of the protests at the forum is one thing. Dr Opel attempted to portray those protesting as violent brutes, and attempt to divert the topic of consideration to racism.

It may be considered disappointing that one of the most politically relevant issues to emerge out of the discussion of a vital public institution is, instead, the manner in which those supporting President Barack Obama's health care reform package are attempting to conclude the debate by marginalizing their opponents.

On one hand we have a Florida State associate professor attempting to demonize his adversaries as racist thugs. On the other hand is a congressman who seems to be favouring a manner of public discourse that favours participation by those he agrees with, and limits the opportunities of his opponents to participate.

One may not necessarily agree with Steve Tenance's views on health care. But one thing that is beyond question is that opponents of health care reform deserve to have their say.

They shouldn't be bullied out of the debate by university professors eager to demean them as racists, nor should they be shut out by a congressman who would rather hobnob with special interest groups that already agree with him.

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