Are Town Hall Meetings Dead In America?

Congressional Republicans have received criticism for calling out professional protesters who are part of a nationally coordinated campaign to hijack their repeal and replace town hall meetings on ObamaCare. These forums have become high-profile media spectacles that have led some Republicans, such as Florida Senator Marco Rubio, to forgo town halls all together.

This has raised the question of whether or not the town hall meeting is indeed dead in America.

Not too long ago, town halls were a vital part of giving Americans a voice in the political process. Norman Rockwell’s 1941 print, Freedom of Speech is my favorite representation of a town hall meeting.  The artwork depicts a lone dissenter, Jim Edgerton, standing up in a town hall meeting in opposition to a proposal for a new school.

Rockwell illustrated Mr. Edgerton, and his minority point of view, with Lincolnesque dignity, symbolizing how we the people propagate democracy and how democracy sustains our republic. Rockwell captured the greatness of our nation in a New England town hall meeting during the Great Depression.

However, the good old days of democratic discourse at town hall meetings idealized by Rockwell are well behind us.  I would argue that town halls no longer serve as a stage for genuine voices to be heard, ideas to be exchanged, and everyday citizens to participate in our political processes.

Instead, town hall meetings have been overtaken by professional activists and protesters who are either paid or scripted to disrupt, distract and in many cases destroy any meaningful dialogue on public policy.

Recently, Senator Marco Rubio received a lot of media criticism for not holding town hall meetings.  In a recent interview with a local news channel he said, “They are not town halls anymore. What these groups really want is for me to schedule a public forum, they then organize three, four, five, six hundred liberal activists…heckling and screaming at me in front of cameras.”

Senator Rubio is right and he correctly identified the X-factor that has led to the death of town hall meetings in America.

This X-factor is easy to see: Protesters do not exist without the news media and the news media needs the protesters for conflict, which is why both are so critical of Republicans like Senator Rubio, who’ve opted out of the town hall forum.

The news media expects professional protesters to hijack town hall meetings enabling reporters to repeat the well-played narrative of angry citizens mobilizing to voice their concerns.

Unlike the organic uprising of the Tea Party movement, the news media must assist liberal groups to propagate the Jerry Springer narrative showcasing Republicans under fire and out of touch with their so-called organic constituents.

In reality, these conflicts are leftist illusions manufactured by DC-centric liberal protesters who are paid to coach, direct and mobilize local activists to torpedo the forum in order to advance their political agenda of divisiveness.

In the battle state of Florida, an electorate microcosm, Republican and Democratic congressmen have experienced what the rest of nation has seen at town halls.

For example, recent town halls meetings sponsored by Republican Congressmen Gus Bilirakis from the Tampa Bay area and Matt Gaetz from the Florida Panhandle were hijacked by professional protesters generating front page, national headlines, and breaking news.

By comparison, Democratic Congressman Darren Soto of the Orlando area had a very quiet town hall meeting.  His forum turned into a mutual admiration society that was so stale that the Congressman had to prompt the audience with questions to see if there was anyone in opposition.  As you can guess, there wasn’t as much media coverage on his town hall.

Sadly, we can no longer expect to hear the voice of Jim Edgerton standing up for his unscripted beliefs at a town hall meeting.  This public forum has been terminally dismantled by liberal activists who have become adept at exploiting public fears and anger. To be fair, I cannot criticize republicans for the death of town halls, because they’re mostly inept at sabotaging them.

Today, town hall meetings have become obsolete, outdated and ineffective as a useful means of educating and connecting with voters.  Town halls are nothing more than an activist vehicle that fuels anxieties and manufactures illusions driven by news and social media.

Republicans who have endured these Astroturf protests are to be commended for doing their jobs.

However, they would be better served by empowering constituents with public forums such as Twitter, tele-town halls or participating in membership group forums. These platforms effectively preclude the tactics of professional protesters, who are hell-bent on undermining our democratic way of life.

Patrick Slevin is a former Florida mayor who leads his global consulting practice SL7 Consulting, headquartered in Tallahassee, Florida.  Go to www.PatrickSlevin.com for more information about his firm.  

Patrick Slevin
the authorPatrick Slevin
Patrick Slevin is a former Florida mayor who leads his global consulting practice SL7 Consulting, headquartered in Tallahassee, Florida. Go to www.PatrickSlevin.com for more information about his firm.

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