It's how activists representing a minority opinion can hijack the debate.
Whether you see them as anti-health care reform operatives or status quo activists, they've done a great job, interrupting the conversation, turning a dialog into a diatribe.
And what's fascinating are the tactics they've successfully compiled, distributed and implemented.
According to the Boston Globe, "Tips from the right on disrupting meeting," "here are some guidelines for conservative activists, published by the operators of www.rightprinciples.com, a website based in Fairfield, Conn., on how to pack and disrupt a local town-hall meeting sponsored by a Democratic member of Congress:
▸Alert people in the district to watch for the first announcement of a town hall - there could be as little as a week’s notice.
▸The team should meet outside the hall with voting records and questions distributed. Everyone should be asked to use one of the questions or a similar one that boxes in the rep. The team should also be advised to spread out within the hall but should try to get seats in the front half.
▸The objective is to put the rep on the defensive with your question and follow-up. The rep should be made to feel that a majority, or at least a significant portion, of the audience opposes the Socialist agenda in Washington.
▸You need to rock the boat early in the rep’s presentation. Watch for an opportunity to yell out and challenge the rep’s statements early. If he blames Bush for something or offers other excuses - call him on it, yell back and have someone else follow-up with a shout-out. Don’t carry on and make a scene, just short intermittent shout-outs. The purpose is to make him uneasy early on and set the tone for the hall as clearly informal and free-wheeling.
▸If he says something outrageous, stand up and shout out and sit right down. Look for these opportunities before he even takes questions.
Yet shouting down opponents is not actually engaging in a dialog. RightPrinciples.com says, "We support the open exchange of a broad range of ideas within our educational institution," though by these tactics, I assume that by "open exchange," they mean they want to be able to shout down opposing perspectives.
I don't generally write about politics, but I am concerned about democracy, and the free flow of ideas. Shouting people down does not promote democracy, and it's not as if people who are upset about health care reform don't have many channels through which to communicate their ideas.
If they believe in the free marketplace of ideas, they should let all of us decide which is the better solution to our health care problem. Have the debate, but actually let it be a debate, a productive exchange of ideas.
The way these activists operate, we both lose.