We’ve been hearing a lot about rowdy townhall meetings.
As members of congress make use of their August recess to meet with their constituents, UW-Madison political science professor Ken Mayer says anger at such political forums is nothing new.
“Now just to remind people that there is a long, long tradition of absolutely vicious political debate in the United States going back to the election of 1800 where the candidates and their supporters were saying things that you wouldn’t even be able to get away with on HBO these days.”
Mayer says it’s important to “separate the wheat from the chaff” and right now we’re seeing a whole lot of both. He says the political process can get pretty messy and contentious. Some members of congress have moved their meetings to larger venues, set ground rules and would only address previously-submitted questions.
Mayer says lawmakers need to avoid losing control, like former US Representative from Illinois, Democrat Dan Rostenkowski, did 20 years ago when he was chased out by a bunch of old folks, who blocked him from escaping in his car. Mayer says town hall meetings do serve a purpose.
“As a representative you want to talk to people, you want to give people an opportunity to express their frustration because you need to know what’s going on in your district and if there’s a lot of potential opposition and grassroots frustration that’s building you need to know about that.”
Mayer says if the elected official doesn’t pay attention to his voters, they could easily vote him out of office. He says it’s also important to keep in mind that we are likely getting an unrepresented sample of townhall meetings, with the focus on the disruptive groups, rather than the more orderly ones.
On a positive note, people are getting involved and participating in the political process.