I was thrilled to have been asked to “cover” the Portsmouth Town Hall meeting with President Obama on Tuesday last for The Dennis Miller Show. By “cover”, I mean, simply show up and get a handful of interviews that may hint at the temperament of the event. Much has been made recently of the outbursts by unruly Americans attending different informational meetings being held across the country by various politicians supporting the health care reform bill. I wanted to see for myself what the fuss was all about.
Truth is, I would have gone anyway, errand for Miller or not, because I kind of fell in love with these little gatherings way back in 1999. I had just finished reading “Faith Of My Fathers”, the biography of sorts, of Senator John McCain. You may remember, he was a candidate for President of The United States, and he was scheduled to hold a “Town Hall Meeting” at our local VFW Post. Wow! I remember being quite taken with the notion that I may get to shake the hand of the man that I had just read about, and who was a genuine “larger-than-life” type of character.
There were perhaps seventy people at this little pow-wow and I asked him a question, not surprising for those who know me, about child-protection laws. He was sharp, on-point and gracious. I also got to shake his hand. Little did I know that, years later, he would run again and I would be riding the Straight Talk Express with him as a semi-upper level volunteer for his New Hampshire campaign force.
It was this first “Town Hall” though, that struck me. I remember thinking about the occasion for days afterward. What more down-to-earth way to reach out to voters than to go out and meet them. Answer their questions, hear their concerns. McCain is a good listener. I attended a few more of his stops the next time he came through New Hampshire, witnessing the beginning of his now-fond relationship with our State. I was smitten with the forum. A seasoned, well-known United States Senator, standing in a room full of people, and taking questions from every corner of the field. McCain has a high IQ, as most of us know, and he handles questions of every sort with ease. He answers, not with a dance routine, but with lucid, succinct answers. On the rare occasion that he doesn’t have the knowledge to give an informed answer, he admits it easily with a little self-deprecating humor.
During his more recent campaign, I was at many of these Town Hall gatherings, including his last in New Hampshire, held at, per his request, the beautiful Peterborough Town Hall. It was an emotional night. Two days later he lost the race, and now our new President is doing the Town Hall. Or, let’s call it, the “Town Hall Lite”.
As I mentioned, I enjoy these things. The Tuesday event was no different. Spirited participants with differing views, exercising what is arguably one of the most beautiful, precious and ethereal rights that we have, or should have, as humans…the right to express our opinion. It reminds me how many places in the world, still, where this kind of exhibition could cost you your life. Or, more likely, would be unthinkable in the first place. Russia, even in the year 2009, doesn’t blink an eye at the fact that over 300 journalists, reporters, writers, thinkers, are murdered or simply disappear each year after speaking out against the ruling power. Incredible. We saw it in Iran recently following a flagrantly corrupt election, where angry dissenters were shot in the street.
So the fact that we can do this here, and I admit to romanticizing here, still moves me. I think of my father and his generation, the World War II guys and gals, who did so much to protect that freedom, not just for us but for other countries. And so it is without argument from either side that we are fortunate for the geography on which we stand.
Still, on Tuesday, I couldn’t help but think that the Obama “Town Hall” is kind of the cheap, knock-off of the real deal. Few would argue that McCain invented the “Town Hall Meeting” during the campaign for the 2000 election. It has since become part of the American lexicon, but like other things in our lexicon, the latest version is so watered down it is barely recognizable.
These are not gatherings to answer questions from random participants. These are staged infomercials. The Obama affair in Portsmouth had more softballs than a Nerf factory. Indeed it so blatantly choreographed that it is almost awkward to watch. The entire room is chanting “Yes We Can”, the old line from the campaign trail for which only now are we discovering the rest of the phrase. “Yes we can jam it down your throat”, might be the slogan in full, and this is exactly how many Americans are feeling about, not just health care, but the entire package of spending, bail-outs, bonuses and bonds. It’s happening too fast, there is an air of caprice within this administration. A 19-pound bill, over 1,000 pages long, expected to pass in two or three days, just before a month-long vacation, and not a single representative who planned to read it first.
Yes…things have “changed”. It might not be change you can believe in, but it’s change you better believe in. And if you want to have more than change to retire with, then you, too, should attend the next event you hear of that will allow you to go out, wave a sign, yell a little bit, and express an opinion. Otherwise, the next thing to be replaced with a “cheap knock-off”…might be you.
Tags: Portsmouth Town Hall