It's probably not too soon to note the thread connecting the Bush administration's practice of only allowing certified Bush-loyal attendees at their town hall events (from the Social Security phase-out day) and what's happening now with these tea-party activists ginned by Freedom Works with instructions to shut down Democratic town halls dealing with health care. From a superficial perspective one might say, well, isn't the point that the town halls aren't supposed to be scripted to a T? You want to get some hustle and bustle, some engagement of opposing views? But as I noted earlier, what the tea bagger mobs are doing is qualitatively different. They're sending in these groups to shut down the meeting entirely.
Both cases are distressingly telling examples of the authoritarian mentality so often found in right-wing politics--force and mob action to shut down actual discussion. It two sides of the same coin--the right in power versus the right out of power.
If anything, I'd go farther and trace the lineage of these demonstrations back to the infamous "Brooks Brothers Riot" of November, 2000, when right-wing protesters shut down the recount of contested presidential election ballots in Miami-Dade County. (I spent the last day searching for online video of that incident; I wasn't successful, so this contemporaneous account from Salon will have to do.)
Note the key parallel: Then, as now, conservatives preferred to shut down the democratic process rather than let it go forward. Could it be that, once again, they realize the facts are not on their side?
Of course, the riot was of a piece with a broader strategy--a broader strategy that worked. Al Gore and his supporters tended to take the high road; when they saw the other side playing dirty, they complained. History has arguably vindicated their position. But it doesn't change the fact that George W. Bush ended up in the White House.
I wrote earlier this week that progressives need to get their act together--to start creating a push for reform that can meet, and overwhelm, the push against. The proflieration of these right-wing demonstrations only makes this more urgent, as others (including Josh) have been arguing. Nobody is suggesting progressives should adopt the tactics of right-wingers and start shutting down discussions. But progressives need to show themselves in large numbers, to make their voices heard.
Progressives also have to start playing offense as well as defense. It's great, and essential, to show solidarity with members of Congress who favor ambitious reform plans. But progressives must also pressure those on the other side. Mike Enzi and Orrin Hatch are going home over recess. So is John Boehner. Are reform activists making appearances there? The chances of changing their votes may be slim. (In Boehner's case, non-existant.) But such vivid examples of grassroots energy can help shape media perceptions and, ultimately, the political discussion.
And what about other sorts of demonstrations? How about rallies where physicians and doctors dump insurance forms? Marches where patients with chronic disease protest in front of drug companies? As I've said before, I'm no strategic genius; I'm sure there are organizers out there with far catchier ideas than these. It's time for them to start trotting them out.