Some things about the New Radicalism are very positive. A lot of people are waking up and trying to take responsibility for their own future before that option is taken away. More people becoming politically aware and politically active can only be good for the country.
One way this is being manifested is in the vociferous protests at the town hall meetings which many of our legislators are holding in their home districts during the August recess. People are coming to these events in large numbers; they are asking questions and expressing informed opinions and when the representatives seem shocked or unresponsive their constituents make very clear that they are not at all satisfied.
It's the video age, so we have video from a lot of these events, and with the recess only barely started, I suspect we will see a lot more in the near future. But for now, these clips may give some idea of the questions which are being asked and how genuine the concern which motivates these citizens is. These are not paid protesters bussed in by ACORN or hardcore partisans working for a political group, these are average citizens who have had enough and are demanding more responsive and more responsible government. They are Republicans, Libertarians, independents and even Democrats who had enough big government, big spending and big brother under Bush and don't want 8 more years of the same.
One of the first town hall meetings where large numbers of angry constituents made their voices heard was in Setauket, New York earlier in the summer. Moderate Democrat Congressman Tim Bishop (D-NY) was clearly not prepared to be asked intelligent and specific questions about pending legislation, he barely managed to mumble out responses while looking like a deer in the headlights. The audio on this clip is not great, but the sentiments and outrage come through loud and clear. Pay particular attention to the veteran who caught Bishop out on his fatuous statements about Veterans Administration health care.
One of the best bits of video comes from a townhall held in Downington, Pennsylvania with Senator Arlen Specter (D-PA) and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius in attendance. This clip gives a very good feel for how out of touch and arrogant these politicians are and has an interesting focus on the issue of why so many legislators dismally fail in their responsibility to the people by not reading so many of the bills which the vote on. The reaction when Specter admits to not reading major legislation sums up the frustration and disgust of a lot of citizens.
Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) was savvy enough (or arrogant enough) not to show up personally at her recent town hall meeting in St. Louis, but she sent members of her staff, who were faced with some excellent questions and a particularly eloquent statement from a young veteran displeased with McCaskill's lack of regard for her oath to uphold and defend the Constitution. As far as I know, he has yet to be identified, but the video is getting wide play and there's buzz about what a good candidate he would make to challenge McCaskill when she's up for reelection. McCaskill is particularly important as one of President Obama's leading supporters in the Senate and someone who has advocated a variety of socialist positions as well as being associated with some of the government's more questionable anti-liberty positions as a member of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security.
I have to give Representative Keith Ellison (D-MN) some credit for seeming genuinely interested in hearing the opinions of his constituents; they were a particularly concerned and informed group when he met with them at a town hall in Minneapolis a few days ago. The problem is that he didn't actually answer any of their questions, despite making a good show of listening. Ellison is about as far to the left as they come and a strong supporter of the administration, but as a first-term Congressman he may turn out to be more responsive to his constituents than others who are more set in their ways.
And the last, but not least, features Representative Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) from an appearance this past weekend in South Austin. Doggett had apparently arranged to have the event attended by picked supporters, but word got out and it was flooded with angry citizens. By all accounts Doggett attempted to answer questions at first, but when the questions became too pointed and critical of his role as one of the farthest left members of Congress, he decided he should just leave as quickly as possible, at which point the previously civil crowd became more hostile and much more vocal. Since then Doggett has made statements to the effect that he plans to vote without regard to the desires of people in his district and on the basis of what he considers right. Not a surprise to those he has misrepresented for years.
I like the idea of town hall meetings, they give people a chance to talk directly to their representatives. The problem is that things don't go well when the representatives clearly aren't really interested in what the people have to say. I hope there will be more of these events and more protests as the month goes on, but I'd bet that right now a lot of these legislators who don't like the idea of having their assumptions challenged are having second thoughts and are likely to cancel future appearances.
For too long the American people have been apathetic and could barely be persuaded to vote. It looks like that is finally changing. It's not representative government if your representatives are not listening to you and actively promoting your interests. Challenging elected officials and members of the administration and holding them accountable is the way to break their complacency and make them work for you. Be informed. Be outspoken. Let no voice of the state go unchallenged.