In the summer of 2009, raucous town halls were a central turning point in the healthcare reform debate, as angry constituents bombarded legislators with furious monologues and protests over the legislation.
Over the past two weeks, town halls are once again a big political story. Ever since Republicans in the House of Representatives passed Representative Paul Ryan’s draconian budget, which cuts taxes on top earners while essentially ending Medicare, there have been widespread reports of angry voters challenging Republicans who voted for it.
This time, to the extent AFP is involved, they are mainly playing defense. The Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) Hari Sevugin tweets that AFP may be busing some people to Ryan town halls to help him counter the constituents that are critical of him.
Slate’s Dave Weigel has also reported that the American Action Network, a front group for several Wall Street investment bankers, also tried to stem the tide of constituent anger by providing lists of possible softball questions for anyone interested in attending a town hall in support of Ryan’s plan.
Signs that the tables are turning are apparent elsewhere as well—most strikingly, perhaps, in the case of freshman Representative Allen West (R-FL). Over the past year, West became a Tea Party star—and the town hall was his stage. As he mounted a campaign to represent Florida’s 22nd Congressional district, a seat then held by Democrat Ron Klein, West began holding fiery public events that became online sensations.
At one forum hosted by a Tea Party group, which got over 2 million hits on YouTube, West thundered: “We need to meet in places and start talking about restoring our liberty and fighting back against a tyrannical government. It starts right here, it starts right now, with each one of you that’s gathered here today.” The crowd went wild.
Once he beat Klein, West—a former lieutenant colonel in the Army—continued to capitalize on his commanding public presence and held town halls in which he would take on all comers. People would line up at microphones and ask West whatever they wanted. Often the questioners heaped praise on West, but not always.