Covering the Health Care Debate as Wrestling Match


It’s Rep. Pete Stark’s turn to navigate the wrath of “counterprotests”. Whether the protests are artificially created opposition as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi calls them, AstroTurf or genuine right wing exasperation with the President’s growing deficit, the congressman’s public appearances this week should be present quite a stark difference over the normally austere, quiet gatherings he is accustomed.

Stark is quite a large target for opponents of the President’s desire to provide affordable health care to nearly all Americans. As one of the authors of the House health care reform bill floating around hospital and a reputation as one of the Capitol’s most liberal legislators his appearance almost makes anti-tax groups in the Central Valley and South Bay froth at the mouth (you need medication for that ailment). If they are poised to jump on Republican Rep. Dan Lungren at his town hall meetings, what will they have in store for Stark?

A quick look at a few of the web sites belonging to these “counterprotest” groups provides very
limited snapshots of how they were formed. For instance, the site for the Tea Party Patriots merely provides links to other groups, which in turn provide very little information or give a sense of any central authority. This raises the question whether they are indeed empty organizations built primarily to cause a ruckus or a growing organic group solely about the cause and not personalities.

Earlier today, the San Leandro Community Action Network (SLCAN), sent followers an email alerting them to the high probability of protesters attempting to drown out Stark’s monthly series of town hall meetings this Saturday. Could you call them “counter-counterprotesters”? SLCAN advises their members to get there earlier and occupy the front rows , bring signs and don’t entice the protesters. The Tea Party Patriots say don’t act foolish, download their signs, talk cogently to the press and don’t be belligerent. Although, everyone is advised to play nice, somehow the scene across the country has been dotted with deafening voices drowning out civil and civic discourse. Earlier this week, protesters baited Sen. Arlen Specter to stray from his remarks (“Wait a minute!” Here’s the video) and Rep. Susan Davis (D-Calif.) had a mob of protesters cat-calling departing visitors of her town hall meeting hollering, “go home to your mamas, faggots!”

Obviously, many of these protesters are not veterans of the local political scene. Apparently, pulled from surrounding rural areas without a personal stand to draw from, these protesters amount to little but loud-mouth filibusters, but can we fault the mainstream media? Yes and maybe yes. Conservative media mouths like Glenn Beck, Michelle Malkin and Lou Dobbs have stoked the furor with misinformation and straddle the borderline between stoking a genuine anger in the populace to inflaming violent action. The television and print media, by focusing on the protests, may also be doing journalism an injustice by shamelessly spotlighting the WWE antics of these groups rather than debating the bill’s strengths and weaknesses. Is this about yelling and screaming or health care for more Americans?

  • Wednesday, Aug. 12, 7 p.m. Speech at the Alameda Democratic Club, Alameda Hospital.
  • Thursday, Aug. 13, 3:45 p.m. “Fireside Chat”, Hilton Hotel, Newark, Calif.
  • Saturday, Aug. 15, 9 a.m. Town hall meeting, Fremont, Calif.
  • Saturday, Aug. 15, 10:30 a.m. Town hall meeting, San Leandro, Calif.
  • Saturday, Aug. 15, noon, Town hall meeting, Alameda, Calif.

About a year ago, I covered a similar dynamic within the protesters of Code Pink who desired to force out the Army recruitment center in Berkeley. Clad in their trademark pink-hued t-shirts and creative costumes, they camped in front of the old Berkeley Library, sang protest songs from the Golden Era of protest and snacked on organic cupcakes. Veterans supposedly aligned with nondescript groups counterprotested the protesters the next morning. I spoke with aging, disaffected Vietnam vets who teased Code Pink as “hippies around the campfire” and wondered how men dressing in pink dresses was going to help the United States win the war against terrorism. The next morning, these same vets yelled, chanted and angrily tossed epithets of every persuasion at the Code Pink protesters. The story that day along with photos of angry faces screaming at each other led the newscasts and topped the first pages of newspapers. The story was about the conflict, not about whether the war was justified.

This week, the story will be some right wing lunatic taunting the irascible Stark into a fork-tongued retort to be plastered all over YouTube. Stark, already has a few web hits from the House. In the end, the protesters win because every day that passes without discussion of how to enact and pay for health care will allow another person to fall into debt because of injury and illness and allow the status quo to stand for at least another decade or more.