Much like the ordinary but pleasant girl-next-door, town hall meetings are an American tradition dating back to the colonial era. Call it Lady Liberty in some of her best cloth. For example, on the first Tuesday of each March, Vermont observes a statewide holiday, Town Meeting Day. By most reports it is a sedate tradition of grassroots democracy with all the action of maple sap dripping.Which brings us to town halls gone wild – the recent spate of smack down melees of angry citizens who railed, sometimes violently, against proposed health care reform.What happened?I would suggest a perfect storm of three forces. First, as every health professional (and not so professional quack) knows, some segment of the population is weird about their health. It is an emotionally charged topic. Second, we are seeing the full bloom of the “merchants of misinformation” — the boisterous radio, TV and web stars who have learned that the manufacture and daily rant of rumors, half-truths and downright lies can ring the cash register and ring it loudly. Lurid terminology such as “death panels” (thanks Sarah Palin) pour gasoline on the fire. The topic hardly stops with health care. A persistent rumor that Obama will effect gun control has caused a massive run on the purchase of firearms since his election. With CN’s Lou Dobbs at the helm, the “birthers” cult is convinced that Obama was not born in Hawaii. Damn the evidence, full speed ahead. This phenomenon is not new. As we observe the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11, as many as one in four Americans believe that NASA never actually landed on the moon — the whole thing was faked. What is new is giving mass media voice to loony-think, having a source as credible as CNN leading the charge. Democracy’s girl-next-door is being seduced by a daily pounding of propaganda – meet “Miss Information.”None of this explains the outrageous behavior of some attendees at town halls gone wild. I have a candidate for the third force of the perfect storm, Jerry Springer, the “Merchant of Mayhem.” The Jerry Springer Show is almost two decades running. Tens of millions of younger Americans, including millions of voters, have never known America without The Jerry Springer Show and its obscene antics of violent domestic disputes. Whatever happened to Father Knows Best and Our Miss Brooks? As his success indicates, Springer is no fool. A former TV newscaster and big city mayor (Cincinnati), he earns big bucks annually and among other credits, Springer was invited to speak at Oxford University. There was even a London run of Jerry Springer: The Opera. Kiss civility goodbye, it’s time to burn Robert’s Rules of Order. Our democracy’s girl-next-door now bites, scratches and pulls hair in fits of rage. By not realizing this in advance, the Democrats have no one but themselves to blame for wading into the town hall buzz saw. They created media dog and pony shows only to learn that rabid behavior has become epidemic. The town halls have been hijacked by the opposition. With the AMA, AARP, American Hospital Association and even “big pharma” on board, did health care reform advocates really need town halls?Next up? It is only time before someone figures out how to make a buck on the whole town hall fiasco. I’ve got my plan. I am teaming up with my buddy Henry the piano player and we are hurriedly composing Health Care Town Halls Gone Wild: The Opera.
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