On MSNBC just now, Andrea Mitchell told Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell that the Obama White House is distancing itself from a USA Today editorial written by Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer arguing, in Mitchell's words, that "it's un-American to protest" Obama's health care plan at town hall meetings.
Wrong. Mitchell is buying right into a Drudge-promoted conservative spin on the article. And it really doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand or explain the point that Pelosi and Hoyer really did make:
However, it is now evident that an ugly campaign is underway not merely to misrepresent the health insurance reform legislation, but to disrupt public meetings and prevent members of Congress and constituents from conducting a civil dialogue. These tactics have included hanging in effigy one Democratic member of Congress in Maryland and protesters holding a sign displaying a tombstone with the name of another congressman in Texas, where protesters also shouted "Just say no!" drowning out those who wanted to hold a substantive discussion....
These disruptions are occurring because opponents are afraid not just of differing views — but of the facts themselves. Drowning out opposing views is simply un-American. Drowning out the facts is how we failed at this task for decades.
Pelosi and Hoyer were talking about people who want to drown out--and intimidate--health reform proponents, not those who want to demonstrate their opposition to reform in a civil and peaceful way that doesn't require police intervention. There's a big difference. They're talking about a particular form of protest--not all protest per se.
That said, I'm surprised at how little support White House press secretary Bill Burton lent the House leaders:
"I think there's actually a pretty long tradition of people shouting at politicians in America," White House deputy press secretary Bill Burton told reporters on Air Force One when asked about the comments.
"The President thinks that if people want to come and have a spirited debate about health care, a real vigorous conversation about it, that's a part of the American tradition and he encourages that, because people do have questions and concerns ...And so if people want to come and have their concerns and their questions answered, the President thinks that's important. Now, if you just want to come to a town hall so that you can disrupt and so that you can scream over another person, he doesn’t think that that's productive. And as a country, we've been able to make progress when people actually talk out what our problems are, not try to shout each other down."
If you read to the end here, you see that Burton ultimately reaches basically the same conclusion as Hoyer and Pelosi, minus the inflammatory label--which the White House clearly wants nothing to do with.