It would appear that Republicans are not quite as eager to hold "town halls" as they once were, back during Insanity Summer '09. Not too surprising, as very few politicians enjoy being yelled at by crazy people and the net result of Insanity Summer was to turn the town hall format from something always-challenging to a national running joke, but the reaction of the professional
crazy people is pretty interesting
“The reason 2009 was so successful for the grass roots was because the politicians never saw it coming,” said Jennifer Stefano, the state director for the Pennsylvania chapter of Americans for Prosperity, a Tea Party group. “Now they know. And they are terrified.”
Translation: We had big plans to send crazy people to say crazy things yet-a-freaking-gain, but now that all but the most hardcore congressional crackpots are dodging the events because they do not want to be seen with us, that blows our entire marketing strategy out of the water.
But wait! The big-name crazy people have decided to hold their own town halls! Ones with blackjack, and—
After seeing a paltry schedule of Congressional town hall meetings this month, another major conservative group, Heritage Action for America, decided it would stage public forums of its own from Arkansas to Pennsylvania. The aim is to recruit people for a group it calls the Sentinels, a citizens’ brigade of sorts, to reach lawmakers through other means, like writing letters to the editor, dialing in to talk-radio programs and mastering the language of Twitter and Facebook.
All right, that genuinely made me sad. Being able to rally all of America's craziest people to show up and spout theories about how the gubbermint is taking over Medicare so that they can make death panels and then the U.N. something-something, now that's some grade-A event planning. Gathering together all of America's craziest people to write letters to the editor, call into right-wing talk shows and yell at people on Twitter, however, is considerably less ambitious. I promise you, all of America's crazy people are already on Twitter, thank you. Your work has already been done. (Also, the name "Sentinels" evokes a sort of septuagenarian biker gang, which is fine if that's what you're going for, but it seems a little, dunno, on the nose? Whatever, it's your movement.)
More on the temporary demise of the town hall format below the fold.
The Democrats have gotten into the spirit of things as well, and seem to have the town hall dynamic even more accurately pegged than Heritage managed with their "let's all get together and write angry letters to newspapers!" plan:
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is sending its advocates into Republican districts with two-dimensional cutouts of members without a traditional town hall on the calendar. Anyone who is feeling especially theatric is being encouraged to debate their cardboard congressman.
… which is in no way inferior to what happens at actual Republican town halls, and has the added advantage that the cardboard cutout will probably say fewer stupid things. (If you want to put a little tape recording in the cutout that every four or five minutes pipes up with a statement questioning whether the president is even a real American citizen, though, that cutout might have a better-than-average chance of taking out the real candidate in the next GOP primaries. Just saying, it's worth a shot.)
I suppose we should be feeling angry or hurt at the temporary demise of the town hall format, and that our Congress is now actively hiding from meeting their own constituents in these public settings. For the record, let me say that, because it sounds good and patriotic and populist and whatnot—forgive me, though, if I leave it an undefended premise for now. Now that the astroturfers have re-discovered how easily the town hall format can be bent to specific purposes, the events have all the charm and dignity of a zoo poo-flinging battle between the monkey cage and the gorilla pen, and even as theater that gets old just as quickly as you imagine it might.