There's a lot of crap going through my head right now. Frankly there's too much going on in the world to write about. I'm just going to share a memory that's forced it's way to the forefront of my thoughts as I've been reading about the faux industry-sponsored protests greeting democratic congressmen back in their districts for townhalls.
On July 23, 1994 I was at this rally (*) at Pioneer Square in downtown Portland. I had waited for several hours in 100-degree heat to see then First Lady Hillary Clinton speak as she kicked off the Health Care Express in the Clinton's doomed effort to modestly reform the health care system in this country.
Clinton was the key note speaker and the reason I was there. I really liked both Clintons and was eager for a chance to see either of them speak live. From what I had seen on the news I knew she had a commanding knowledge of health care and an ability to put a personal perspective on that complex issue. Unfortunately I didn't get to hear a word of what she had to say.
As soon as she took the stage a group of tractor rigs that had been circling the square for hours began blowing their air horns. Unless you were very close to the stage or the speakers you would only catch snippets of what Clinton had to say. (On a related note I had much the same experience a year or so later when I went to see Vice President Al Gore speak at PSU and some wingnut about 10 feet from me spent the entire speech screaming, ruining the experience.)
I struggle with this issue in the context of the First Amendment. On the one hand I loathe the sort of selective crowd control that became commonplace under the Bush administration. Does a bumper sticker on your car, t-shirt, sign or even a provocative question to the president when handed a microphone by organizers really mete expulsion and an arrest? Most of us would probably answer "no" to that question.
When you break it down isn't the difference between those who would shout down a congressman talking to his constituents about health care or a First Lady speaking at a rally and those who would wear an anti-Bush t-shirt to a Bush speech the difference between exercising one's right to free speech or trying to keep others from exercising that same right? Bush supporters may not have enjoyed having to stand next to somebody in such a t-shirt but at least they still had the chance to hear the incoherent babblings of the chimpanzee they lionized.
Does the First Amendment protect the right to shout down those you disagree with? Conservatives and their toadies on the court seem to think so. Much of the continued torpedoing of campaign finance reform laws on First Amendment grounds are based around this idea.
Personally I see shouting down the opposition, whether it's through smothering their message via the airwaves or yelling to the degree that they can't be heard, as a violation of their basic right to free speech. It makes speech solely the province of those who can afford it or those who are willing to be the biggest bullies.
In a larger sense our democratic society cannot function unless all participants are willing to listen. Those that are fighting against health care reform shouldn't be included in the debate at all unless they're as willing to hear as they are to be heard.
(* For bonus fun read through that contemporary account of the rally and see if you can catch the reporter's unmasked disdain for the event expressed through phrases like "...the populism has been carefully crafted." Then, as now, the establishment press tries to make it look like those that want to reform health care are just a front for powerful and shadowy forces. Of course then, as now, the exact opposite is the case.)