There’s been some talk that the wave of protests and near-riots that has hit congressional town hall meetings across the country has been astroturf -- rent-a-crowds that conservative groups ginned up as a tactic to intimidate Democrats and make the opposition to their healthcare plan seem larger than it is. But it seems clear that regardless of the role FreedomWorks and similar organizations are playing, there is a real vein of discontent here. That said, though, that discontent often appears to be driven by a paranoid view of what healthcare reform will mean, one largely divorced from reality.
How else to explain what happened Thursday at a meeting held by Rep. Bob Inglis, R-S.C.? The best video of the meeting is available from anybodybutbob.com, an anti-Inglis site, and has been heavily edited, so it’s not clear what we don’t get to see. Still, it’s obvious that the congressman, who is a conservative, has his head much too squarely on his shoulders for his constituents' taste.
In the statement that has gotten the most attention, Inglis says of Glenn Beck, “Turn that television off when he comes on. Let me tell you why. You want to know why? He’s trading on fear.” The crowd is not pleased, and the whole moment brings back memories of earlier this year when Republicans kept having to apologize to Rush Limbaugh.
But it’s not just the Beck exchange that deserves attention. The whole video is amazing. There’s a near-constant stream of patter from the crowd, heckling Inglis: “Hey Bob!” “Pay attention!” “Your boss is talking, Bob!” “Step it up, Inglis!”
And it seems like the more acute a questioner’s paranoia, the more eager the crowd’s support. The video begins with a woman saying she's afraid of President Obama and the congressman asking why -- in response, the audience erupts with people calling the president a socialist. “You should be afraid of Obama!” one says.
Later, a woman named Rose asks about being forced to accept vaccinations, and the crowd applauds. You can hear a shout about “martial law!” One man, seemingly with the approval of his peers, describes how everyone he knows is talking about revolution. Apparently there’s even widespread concern about the involvement of the federal government in the regulation of light-bulb efficiency. “Where in the Constitution does Congress decide our light-bulb, like our toilet and everything else? And you voted for it.” (That last bit is true.)
The thing kind of speaks for itself. Inglis has tacked toward the center in recent years, but he hasn't exactly become Dennis Kucinich. When Mitt Romney, a Mormon, was running for president, Inglis told him, “You cannot say, ‘I am a Christian, just like you.’”
If this guy is a sell-out Constitution-violating secular statist to a significant portion of the party base -- it’s hard to know how representative this crowd really is -- then the GOP is heading to some strange places.