The Heckler’s Veto – A Firsthand Account

Paige Sweet

It seems that the anti-healthcare reformers have taken a page from the anti-choice playbook: intimidate, vilify, harass. Or it could just be that familiar anti-choice hatred cloaked in "family values" seeping through, maddening those of us who believe in the type of "family values" that would allow everyone's families to have healthcare.

In its efforts
to oppose health-care reform at all costs, the radical rightwing has created a
frenzied mob that is trying to derail all legitimate discussion of President Obama’s
healthcare reform plan. In Jefferson County, Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill’s August 11th
town hall meeting featured organized heckling and name-calling, infuriated boos
at the suggestion that the federal government should aid its people, and the
shredding of a poster featuring a civil rights leader. Noticeably absent from
the meeting’s discussion were thoughtful arguments setting forth any reason to
oppose the President’s healthcare plan.


Within the
first 30 minutes of the meeting, Senator McCaskill responded to lies about
abortion funding in the plan, pointed out that most people in the room already
gladly rely on government-run healthcare in the form of Medicare, and assured
the audience that, contrary to rightist spin, Americans will be able to keep
their private insurance if they so choose. Having exhausted all of its
pre-planned objections to President Obama’s proposal, the bewildered crowd
spent the rest of the two-hour session vacillating between cheering record
insurance company profits, booing claims that global warming is real, and shouting
obscenities during Senator McCaskill’s responses.


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Of course, the
alleged public funding of abortions was the first question of the day,
resulting in a fury of standing applause when the speaker demanded that his tax
money not be used for abortions. Though Senator McCaskill explained that
nothing in the bill mandates taxpayer dollars for abortions and expressed her
support for the rule that prohibits federal money from going toward abortion
care (the Hyde Amendment), the abortion question resurfaced throughout the


In an audience
that booed fiercely when the Senator claimed that global warming was real, one
can hardly expect a rational discussion of reproductive rights. However, just
as those who feast on a steady diet of Fox News claim that our legislators are
not reading the fine print of the healthcare bill, they most likely have not
read the fine print of their private insurance plans. If they did, they might
very well find that the carriers to whom their premiums are flowing do in fact
cover abortion. To be sure, if Senator McCaskill had pointed this out, it would
only have been shouted down with chants of "LIAR."


And so the
abortion question went largely unresolved despite a plethora of questions about
the topic. The audience much preferred stewing in its fury to being given
actual facts and logical answers to questions that betrayed a startling
ignorance of the details. This crowd’s warlike aggression toward almost every
one of the Senator’s reasonable responses makes obvious that these people have
moved past debate and into battle. This point was perhaps demonstrated most
clearly when a woman outside the venue held up a sign that read, "Waterboard
Congress." Apparently the extreme right-wing has moved from encouraging torture
of "suspected terrorists" to encouraging torture of our elected officials if
they do not vote in accordance with their views. It seems that the
anti-healthcare reformers have taken a page from the anti-choice playbook:
intimidate, vilify, harass. Or it could just be that familiar anti-choice
hatred cloaked in "family values" seeping through, maddening those of us who
believe in the type of "family values" that would allow everyone’s families to
have healthcare.


similarities between the tactics of anti-choice extremists and those on the far
right against healthcare reform illuminate a stark reality for Missouri. In a state with only three abortion
providers, a virulently anti-choice legislature, sky-high rates of teen
pregnancy, STI’s, and poverty, we cannot afford to lose the healthcare battle.
A public option including the choice of abortion coverage would mean more hope
for Missouri women and families. Because of the
hate-filled rhetoric that dominated the town hall, there was very little
discussion of the realities of poor, uninsured Missouri families. (Indeed, this crowd would
have agreed with the vociferously anti-choice Missouri state representative Cynthia Davis’s
now famous observation, ridiculed by Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, that
hunger is a great motivator). In a room full of people that cheered "Good for
them!" when the Senator read reports of the exorbitant salaries of insurance
company CEO’s, empathy for our struggling neighbors was hard to come by.


Obviously, this
crowd was fiercely committed to its self-righteous anger and to little else,
especially a thoughtful discussion about healthcare. At one point, a woman
behind me actually sobbed through furious anti-Obama chants. And then there was
the man who grabbed a woman’s Rosa Parks poster and proceeded to rip it up,
egged on by the cheering crowd. While the healthcare debate provides a
convenient backdrop for expressing disdain for America’s poor and xenophobic
fear of the nation’s first African-American president, these right-wingers are
clearly motivated much more by fear and hatred than actual healthcare or public
policy concerns. Their confused messages, from equating healthcare reform
supporters with Nazis to incoherent mumblings about tort reform, ultimately should
do more to convince us of their desperation than anything else.

So while
Tuesday’s town hall did a great deal to demonstrate that many Missourians are
angry, confused, and perhaps need an eighth-grade civics lesson, it did little
to expose any legitimate objection to reforming a broken healthcare system.
Let’s just hope that Congress is strong enough not to wobble under the threat
of heckler’s vetoes and intimidation. Let’s hope that the lesson of Rosa Parks
herself and not the shredding of her image by an angry troll is what prevails
here. Let’s hope Rosa Parks reminds our legislators not to budge from what is

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