Drowning out the district

At a town hall meeting on health care in June -- before the nationwide outrage over the current legislation -- I asked my congressional representative, Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), how she could promise that the public option would merely compete with private insurance, given that she had boasted in April that "a public option will put the private insurance industry out of business." She flatly denied ever having made the statement.

When I replied that her speech was on YouTube for all to see, a man three seats over from me shouted: "Shut up!" Another man across the room yelled, "I want to put them out of business," and several people applauded. "Well," I said, "I have private insurance and so do many people in the district, and we don't want to lose it."

Later, as I left the meeting, a woman followed me. "Do you work for an insurance company?" she demanded. "I bet you own a nursing home." I replied that neither was true, though my mother once worked in nursing homes as a physical therapist.

"Oh, physical therapists are the worst!" she cried. Turning to a companion, she gestured at me and added: "You see? This is what we have to watch out for."

In truth, the only thing Schakowsky and the $200 million campaign to force a health care bill through Congress have to "watch out" for are the voices and the votes of ordinary people. The majority of Americans are turning against this legislation simply by learning about what's in it. That is the reality that is slowly dawning on Congress-but which the most radical Democrats refuse to recognize.

Last week, Schakowsky appeared on "Real Time" with Bill Maher and announced that "millions" of Americans would soon march in favor of the "public option" on health care reform. She went further than repeating her talking points on government-run insurance, and revealed the new Astroturf strategy of HCAN and its well-funded allies: namely, to stack town hall meetings with shills and provocateurs.

As Schakowsky prepares for another town hall meeting August 31, locals have wondered whether she would restrict entry to residents of her district. The rumors were fueled by a New York Times article in which she was asked if she would be checking addresses at the door. She said she would not, which I credited to fair-mindedness until I remembered how many of her own supporters come from outside the area.

Back on August 4, the day after Senator Dick Durbin falsely accused opponents of health care of being paid stooges for the insurance industry, Schakowsky and her colleagues bused in supporters to a health care rally in Chicago. The Chicago Daily Herald even ran photographs of protestors gathering in far suburban Palatine and signing in with organizers as they waited to board a bright yellow bus to the city.

The truth is that Schakowsky has a history of denigrating free speech when she dislikes the message. This past April, Schakowsky referred to the Tea Party protests as "shameful" and "despicable." Contrast that to her attitude just a few years ago, when she led protests against Social Security reform at a private brokerage office that was merely a convenient target for anti-capitalist rage.

And then there was the famous protest Schakowsky led against fellow Democrat Dan Rostenkowski in 1989, when she incited a crowd that chased him down the street and attacked his car. When NPR asked her about the incident, Schakowsky claimed that today's town hall protestors want "to silence the conversation." In fact, the only people determined to silence conversation on health care are Schakoswsky and her radical supporters.

Organizing For America -- the former Obama campaign arm -- has planned a send-off for Schakowsky late this week. It has also issued instructions to its members to "arrive early" at the Schakowsky town hall meeting, the better to confront "Washington insiders, insurance companies, and well-financed special interests who don't go a day without spreading lies and stirring up fear."

That's an insult to the people of our district, whose voices Schakowsky intends to drown out. More than our health care, our very freedom is at stake.

Joel B. Pollak is a recent Harvard Law graduate and the author of Don't Tell Me Words Don't Matter: How Rhetoric Won the 2008 Presidential Election.
At a town hall meeting on health care in June -- before the nationwide outrage over the current legislation -- I asked my congressional representative, Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), how she could promise that the public option would merely compete with private insurance, given that she had boasted in April that "a public option will put the private insurance industry out of business." She flatly denied ever having made the statement.

When I replied that her speech was on YouTube for all to see, a man three seats over from me shouted: "Shut up!" Another man across the room yelled, "I want to put them out of business," and several people applauded. "Well," I said, "I have private insurance and so do many people in the district, and we don't want to lose it."

Later, as I left the meeting, a woman followed me. "Do you work for an insurance company?" she demanded. "I bet you own a nursing home." I replied that neither was true, though my mother once worked in nursing homes as a physical therapist.

"Oh, physical therapists are the worst!" she cried. Turning to a companion, she gestured at me and added: "You see? This is what we have to watch out for."

In truth, the only thing Schakowsky and the $200 million campaign to force a health care bill through Congress have to "watch out" for are the voices and the votes of ordinary people. The majority of Americans are turning against this legislation simply by learning about what's in it. That is the reality that is slowly dawning on Congress-but which the most radical Democrats refuse to recognize.

Last week, Schakowsky appeared on "Real Time" with Bill Maher and announced that "millions" of Americans would soon march in favor of the "public option" on health care reform. She went further than repeating her talking points on government-run insurance, and revealed the new Astroturf strategy of HCAN and its well-funded allies: namely, to stack town hall meetings with shills and provocateurs.

As Schakowsky prepares for another town hall meeting August 31, locals have wondered whether she would restrict entry to residents of her district. The rumors were fueled by a New York Times article in which she was asked if she would be checking addresses at the door. She said she would not, which I credited to fair-mindedness until I remembered how many of her own supporters come from outside the area.

Back on August 4, the day after Senator Dick Durbin falsely accused opponents of health care of being paid stooges for the insurance industry, Schakowsky and her colleagues bused in supporters to a health care rally in Chicago. The Chicago Daily Herald even ran photographs of protestors gathering in far suburban Palatine and signing in with organizers as they waited to board a bright yellow bus to the city.

The truth is that Schakowsky has a history of denigrating free speech when she dislikes the message. This past April, Schakowsky referred to the Tea Party protests as "shameful" and "despicable." Contrast that to her attitude just a few years ago, when she led protests against Social Security reform at a private brokerage office that was merely a convenient target for anti-capitalist rage.

And then there was the famous protest Schakowsky led against fellow Democrat Dan Rostenkowski in 1989, when she incited a crowd that chased him down the street and attacked his car. When NPR asked her about the incident, Schakowsky claimed that today's town hall protestors want "to silence the conversation." In fact, the only people determined to silence conversation on health care are Schakoswsky and her radical supporters.

Organizing For America -- the former Obama campaign arm -- has planned a send-off for Schakowsky late this week. It has also issued instructions to its members to "arrive early" at the Schakowsky town hall meeting, the better to confront "Washington insiders, insurance companies, and well-financed special interests who don't go a day without spreading lies and stirring up fear."

That's an insult to the people of our district, whose voices Schakowsky intends to drown out. More than our health care, our very freedom is at stake.

Joel B. Pollak is a recent Harvard Law graduate and the author of Don't Tell Me Words Don't Matter: How Rhetoric Won the 2008 Presidential Election.