Welcome To The (Health Reform Debate) Madhouse

Baristanet — Friday, September 4, 2009

Posted by Debbie Galant

Hundreds of people showed up at Montclair State University yesterday afternoon for a town hall meeting with Rep. Bill Pascrell. The subject was health care. But the event soon became spectacle, practically gladiatorial, with Pascrell standing alone against an unruly mob.

What started out as a calm discussion soon erupted into near chaos when questions turned into personal attacks against the congressman's voting record and views on abortion. Breaking out of his calm demeanor, Pascrell responded angrily to a citizen who said he was pro-life and stated what she thought he had voted on in the past. "Sit back for two seconds and I'll tell you what I voted for!" he shouted.

Questions were followed by boos, cheers and people shouting their own personal opinions, as Pascrell struggled to tame the audience.

When one audience member shouted "You didn't answer my question!" to the congressman, Pascrell screamed back, "I DID answer the question!" He then grabbed a copy of the healthcare bill and sternly read a passage from section 242, page 132. "Read the bill! Don't listen to Rush Limbaugh," he said firmly holding the bill in one hand while gesturing towards the audience with the other.

The crowd was divided. Several people held conflicting signs in different parts of the auditorium. One read, "I am not a mob." While another read "Hands off my healthcare." Other signs in the crowd ranged from thank-you notes to President Obama to one stating "I'd rather pay for taxes than premium."

After the two and a half hour meeting ended, the circus continued outside where people were waiting with handouts. One included a magazine with a back-cover photo of Obama sporting a mustache similar to Adolf Hitler.

Reporting above by Kristie Cattafi, editor-in-chief of the Montclarion. Below, another view by regular Baristanet reader and Glen Ridge resident Kit Schackner:

I went to Congressman Pascrell's Town Meeting at Montclair State. It was not at all the disheartening display of idiocy I had feared. I am pleased to report that the tea baggers were by no means the majority, and they did not dominate the meeting. I'd guess the auditorium held somewhere between 600 and 900 people, and it was full. It seemed that about two thirds to three quarters of the people were pro-public-option-all-the-way-reform, and they were motivated to take control with signs, applause and audible contempt for the nut jobs. The air was electric with defiant activism, and the tea baggers realized they weren't going to shout this meeting down with inanities, and simmered down. The civility was enhanced by a single roving security officer who looked like Mr. T, and was not afraid to act on his image.

The meeting was formatted to have Congressman Pascrell make an introduction, and then have three panelists speak: Wendell Potter, a former Cigna executive who had an epiphany about how his company systematically denied care, Baristaville's own Kelly Conklin, who gave a roaring address that actually subdued the raucous nut jobs, and a doctor whose name escapes me who spoke about the need for reform. After this, it went to questions and answers. A legitimate attempt was made to select questions from both sides, but as might be expected, there were more comments than questions, although only one young man who'd been reading far too much Ayn Rand actually ranted without including a question. The audience aired its contempt for him wonderfully.

The tea baggers had about four common phrases — "Who's paying you?", "Tort reform!", "Socialism!", and one that eludes me: "Seamless health care!" But their comments were diluted by the pro-lifers, anti-immigrant freaks, and rambling libertarians among them, so I'd have to say that as far as health care reform goes, they really didn't stay on a cohesive message. In fact, they appeared to be a pretty ramshackle bunch. There were a couple of senior citizens who were concerned that their Medicare benefits would be eroded by the Public Option. Congressman Pascrell assured them that this would not happen.

Obama's name only came up a couple of times, but when it did, the opposition found its howl. But just as quickly, the crowd challenged them with accusations of "RACISM!!" and it seemed to shock them back into muttering.

I think in the end, maybe 1.006 person's minds were changed or edified. People came with opinions, and left with the same opinions. But the electricity of the event belonged to the pro-public option activists. We definitely won this Town Meeting.

One curious aspect was the press, which wasn't exactly teeming in number. A couple of itinerant photographers with bazooka sized cameras wandered up and down the aisles and curiously lingered like fruit flies on the handful of tea baggers who wouldn't stop shouting — among them, a really loud Russian woman whom a lot of people wanted to physically harm. The cameras lingered over her as if she were the It Girl of the year. There was a lot of other action — I figured they must work for Fox. They were clearly seeking out the idiots rather than recording actual events. So don't let the media fool you — here in the 8th district, common sense and a healthy support for health care reform rules. We're not letting the idealogues control our back yards.

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