Friday, August 07, 2009

Right wing intimidation at healthcare town meetings

Widespread attempts by Teabagger healthcare reform protestors to completely disrupt the congressional town hall meetings raise an interesting question. What kinds of conduct are appropriate at public meetings when intense disagreements and angry feelings arise?

Actually, I did a lot of shouting at speakers from the audience during my student days, including government spokesmen who'd come to campus to justify the Vietnam War. I recall one such meeting, perhaps 1966 or so, when William Bundy of the South Asia desk at the State Department spoke at U.C. Berkeley and was greeted by loud shouts and jeers. His host for the lecture, chair of the Political Science Department, scolded the crowd "for not letting Mr. Bundy speak." In fact, Mr. Bundy was able to deliver his whole talk, but with a good number of brief interruptions. At the time there was (usually) an understanding that while lies and deceptions should be answered forcefully on the spot, a speaker should be heard out fully, if not "respectfully."  The same etiquette used to cover (maybe still does) the speakers corner at Hyde Park in London -- a kind of noisy call and response, entertaining political theater. This is altogether different from the persistent Teabagger mob disruptions that try to intimidate people, shut down free speech and eliminate any exchange of views.

Hence, I think both of the following points are true:

1. Respect for free speech does not require us to sit quietly by as a speaker spews forth blatant falsehoods and vile prejudice.

2. Total disruption of public gatherings is contrary to freedom and democracy.

- Langdon