By 6:00 pm, there was a long line that stretched from the gym’s doors almost all the way to the main road, lining the school’s parking lot as it crept up the small hill. Doug and I were at Rancho Buena Vista High School for Congressman Darrell Issa’s Town Hall meeting on health care. We had driven to southern Vista – a land of new suburbs, condos and malls – from the southern reaches of the county. Everything in sight seemed to have been built in the last ten to twenty years or so.
It had been a long drive from San Diego, and so we had a while to muse about was in store for us. While in line, we noticed several things: there weren’t as many signs – either pro-health care reform or anti. Plus we didn’t see any crazy wingnuts out with their images of Obama with the Hitler mustache or with white face. They weren’t showing off, at least. And, there weren’t any gun-toters either in view. Whew! That was a relief.
Yet, we were in conservativeland. We knew that going up to Wednesday’s meet. We knew it would be a different town hall scene than the one held in Spring Valley last weekend with Congresswoman Susan Davis. But we didn’t know just how different it was going to be. We wondered how many Democrats or progressives would be at this event, as Darrell Issa is a very slick and conservative Republican, former businessman – as he kept reminding us throughout the evening. Issa had been one of the leaders of the movement that recalled former Democratic governor Gray Davis. And we knew that Issa and Glenn Beck’s 912 organization had mobilized for the evening.
They packed us in to the non-air conditioned gymnasium – all 1500 of us. By time we took our seats on the wood bleachers, half the audience was using the fliers passed out as fans. Supposedly hundreds were left in the night air to listen to the speeches and questions (outside had an excellent sound system, by the way, and was much cooler than inside) – the estimate from the stage was that there was another 1500 outside. This would mean that Issa had drawn a crowd of 3,000.
Guess who emceed this event? None other than right-wing radio personality Rick Roberts himself. Media savvy Republicans staged this event to the T. Roberts had a great radio voice, commanding and controlling. And once Issa took the stage, you could tell he could handle himself with great finesse. A right-wing finesse. A slickness that you don’t often see Democratic politicians with. About a third of the audience stood for Issa as he took the steps to the stage.
As the evening proceeded, the contrasts between what we were experiencing and what had transpired at the Susan Davis event were as different as night and day.
First, I noticed much more mainstream media TV news cameras. Doug offered that Orange County – not that far away – had also sent media. The sound system was better. You could hear what was said throughout the hall. At Davis’ event, I had stood in the back and could only hear about half of what was said from the stage or from the questions.
But the biggest difference, which became more and more apparent, was that everyone was civil. No shouting, no chanting, no rude interruptions from the floor or the bleachers, no rancor. Issa had asked everyone not to boo but to “applaud at something you agree with.” So, except for a couple of moments, there were no boos. One was when the ACLU was mentioned, but Issa told people that even they do some good things.
This was in stark contrast to what had occurred at the Susan Davis Town Hall meeting, where right from the get-go, there was constant shouting, boos and generally disruptive behavior generated towards Davis and anything positive said about Obama or health care reform. There had even been the chant “Recall Davis!” that day. Nothing like that this eve.
So, I finally got it. The right-wing extremists will go to a Democratic town hall meeting and disrupt it. As they did on August 29th in Spring Valley. But when one of their own holds a Town Hall meeting, everyone is polite and friendly. This was the fare for the evening.
Looking back and being able to now experience both town hall meetings, it is clear that the right had a mandate to disrupt, to block, to not allow any discussion about health care reform at the Susan Davis Democratic Party-sponsored event. And that’s what they did that hot, sizzling day in Spring Valley. They disrupted it. Susan Davis was shouted down – numerous times. It was embarrassing as she did not know how to handle it. Neither did her emcee – George Mitrovich.
But no one disrupted last night’s event. Left-wingers and progressives and Democratic Party activists did not attend with the sole purpose of getting in Issa’s face or shouting him down. Nothing of the kind. We’re too civil, too polite – we actually want discussion and discourse. Not to mention that the Democrats had not mobilized for this thing as they had for Spring Valley.
One of the most dramatic moments of the two hours of sweltering heat, – clearly crafted and staged for this audience – was when Issa, holding the supposed copy of the health care reform bill – 1100 pages, and says, “This should not be thrown away,” pausing for effect, “but we should recycle it!” at which point he tossed it into a blue recycle canister already on stage. There was lots of yelling and applause in agreement.
The questions from the floor were mostly soft-ball ones. The very first questioner, a large, middle-aged man in an orange shirt named Roger, starts out by saying, “I am one of those domestic terrorists.” More applause. There were some boos – and this is where Issa asked everyone not to boo but to clap at something you agreed with. I thought to myself ‘what if there was never anything said that you agree with?’
I could recount several things that questioners asked – like the young student who asked what with 42 million people in America without health insurance, how could they be covered without a public option – there was some applause from the liberal side here. Incredibly, Issa’s response was to call into doubt that number – the 42 million. “Well,” he glibly stated, “one of the problems is to document that 42 million.” More applause than when the question was asked.
An older woman, dressed nicely even in this weather, declared, “I don’t accept the premise that government should be involved in health care.” Lots of applause.
This is where both Issa and Rick Roberts mentioned how “civil” everyone was being. Meanwhile, Issa kept pushing tort reform – even saying at one point that “tort reform is the most important issue.” More important than health care itself. No mention of all the profits that health care insurance companies make, or how pharmaceutical companies rake it in. This is interesting, as pharmaceuticals and health product corporations gave Darrell Issa $65,250 in 2008. See here for yourself.
One of the last questioners, a young woman, called out: “Who controls Congress? – the lobbyists!” Much applause. Issa had to be careful there, as lobbyists handed him over $16,000 last year.
The biggest eruption of applause and yells and stomping of the feet occurred, when an older woman took the mike, and asked “Where is the money coming for all those ‘czars’?” The place went wild. Czars? I thought. WTF?? It seemed as if 90% of the people in the hall were yelling. While the crowd was going crazy on this issue, I could see Roberts up on the stage with a big, knowing grin on his mug. Later, as we exited, I asked one of Issa’s staffers – a young, tall blond with braids, whether “czars” was a Rick Roberts’ issue. Oh yes, she said, it’s a big thing for Roberts.
As the hot, dripping evening came to a close, I found myself being intimidated in how I responded to anything. If I clapped for something positive or liberal, I would be nearly alone in the section of bleachers we found ourselves in. I started clapping for anything that sounded okay. “Congress is corrupted by all the money!” Clap, clap, clap. “We need different options than a government-controlled one.” Clap, clap, clap. “We need some kind of reform, just not this bill.” Clap, clap, clap. God is great, clap, clap, clap. The sun rises everyday, clap, clap, clap.
When the event was over, I hurried down the steps and found Roger, the “domestic terrorist.” I introduced myself and shook hands. He acted as if we were old friends. I asked him about his statement – and oh, he said, he just said that because Nancy Pelosi had called town hall disrupters “astroturf” and domestic terrorists (she did?), so he was simply using her own language. Plus, he said, there was that report about how returning vets were domestic terrorists, and he was a vet. It all made sense. I don’t think he was a gun-totin’ extremist, just a pissed-off conservative veteran.
As we filed out of the hall, a middle-aged guy came up to me smiling, and says, “I noticed you were clapping by yourself there a couple of times. You must be a Democrat.” He was kind of joking around. “I told my wife, ‘hey they even let in a Democrat.'” We chuckled both knowing that the evening was way one-sided.
To be noticed like that was a bit unsettling. Doug, who had worn a Cubano Rum cap, even had someone – in a nice way – point out that it was from “Cuba” – he corrected them by saying the caps are actually made in Mexico and have been for decades. But the fact that even his cap drew attention because it had the word “Cuban” on it was note worthy.
As we were driving out of the parking lot, I felt disgusted. Here, Rick Roberts promotes an atmosphere of hate and invites a climate of right-wing disruption. He uses his radio to do this. Did he call upon his listeners to attend Susan Davis’ thing and shout her down? He held an “after town hall rally” after the Susan Davis town hall, “to express your views on Health Care Reform and the March to Socialism.” This was on a flier passed out at the Susan Davis scene. But here, with Darrel Issa, Roberts was the frickin emcee!
So, Roberts gets his people to the Democrat event and they disrupt it. Then he calls his flock to Issa where they’re all nicey-nice and polite and civil. Isn’t this great? The right knows how to have a town hall meeting. But those Democrats – they lie anyhow, so why not shout them down?
In fact, Darrell likes these town hall meetings so much, he’s having another one tonight in Oceanside. And at the opposite side of our huge County, there’s a Democratic Party Congressional send off in downtown San Diego at City Park, located on Broadway between 3rd and 4th street ay at 5pm today. Will it too be disrupted by those right-wingers? They’re playing with a different rule book than the rest of us.