Is the GOP Blind to Potential Town Hall Backlash? « The Washington Independent
Republicans have been only too happy to encourage the town hall protesters who’ve interrupted so many health reform forums — and made so many headlines — this week. But Washington Post columnist David Broder has a cautionary tale for GOP leaders: A similarly boisterous protest against President Lyndon Johnson — staged at the Adolphus Hotel in Dallas in 1960 — might have energized those doing the protesting, but it alienated other Republicans who were watching the spectacle, humiliated, from afar.
The backlash was instant and powerful. As conservative columnists Rowland Evans and Robert Novak later wrote in their book about Johnson, the scene in the Adolphus “outraged thousands of Texans and Southerners. Sen. Richard Russell of Georgia, who had not campaigned for his party’s national ticket since 1944, telephoned Johnson that evening to offer his services.” The Johnson biographers concluded that while no one could prove the case, it is “a credible hypothesis” that the Adolphus incident swung Texas and perhaps other closely contested Southern states to the Democrats.
The comparison is apt. The crowds descending on the town hall discussions have been larger than lawmakers expected — and certainly more raucous — but there’s no indication that the most vocal detractors represent anything but a small minority of folks who didn’t vote for Barack Obama and now want to air their frustrations over his victory. The evidence comes from the detestable signs, the off-topic rantings and the general sense that many are participating only to disrupt the discussion rather than take anything from it.
It all makes for riveting TV, but “what doesn’t make the news,” Broder notes, “is what the reaction is among the larger population of voters whose views will ultimately influence the fate of health-care legislation.”
It’s this much larger group that Democrats should keep in mind as they continue their health reform push. And if Broder’s right, Republicans would do well to take that advice as well.