With "Obamacare" and "Barney Frank" dominating the trending topics today on Twitter -- thanks to last night's ballistic town-hall meeting down in Dartmouth, Massachusetts -- we wanted to make sure that you're not relying on the mainstream media for your perceptions of what went down. So for those who are interested, we're posting the unedited audio -- all two and a half hours of it, in three parts -- below. We also encourage you to read Chris Faraone's report on the meeting posted last night.
DOWNLOAD: Barney Frank on Health Care | Dartmouth, MA | August 19, 2009 | Part 1 [mp3, right-click, save-as]DOWNLOAD: Barney Frank on Health Care | Dartmouth, MA | August 19, 2009 | Part 2 [mp3, right-click, save-as]DOWNLOAD: Barney Frank on Health Care | Dartmouth, MA | August 19, 2009 | Part 3 [mp3, right-click, save-as]
You wouldn't know it from the TV coverage -- short clips of which aired on Greta Van Susteren's Fox News show, on CNN via Larry King, and on a quorum of the local network affiliates -- but there was an awful lot of substance packed into a brawling, nearly-three-hour duel that pitted Barney Frank against a hostile audience of constituents. Yes, there was name-calling, including a surreal, Dylan-like exchange where someone in the crowd called Frank a liar -- we half-expected him to reply "I don't believe you," but instead he called the shouter forward and demanded the man state his case. Frank's opposition came armed with talking points -- some of them even came prepared with facts -- but Barney lucidly parried with them. He quoted the bill; he was funny and angry, sometimes simultaneously (when one questioner accused Frank of having something to hide, he shouted, "I haven't had a secret in 21 years, and I don't have one now!"); he provoked his audience by revealing the contradictions inherent in their arguments; he spoke plainly at times and spoke densely at others; he shouted to be heard; he repeatedly shouted down boos. And through it all he found a way to outline his positions on health care in general and on the bill spefically (Frank's ideas are not completely in sync with the administration on issues that include how it's to be funded and whether there ought to be a public option), and on Freddie Mac & Fanny Mae, on the war in Iraq, and on the bailout.
It was fantastic, riveting political theater. It felt right that there was screaming and cops in the aisles and running arguments between people in their seats. This was exactly the kind of sweaty, untidy debate that ought to restore your faith in democracy -- not in the placid, intellectually-abstracted, capital-D Democracy but in the messy, hand-to-hand, e-pluribus-unum version. There is a place in democracy for reasoned debate. And there is also room for venom, passion, irreverence. You cannot combat the Right's molotov crazybrains with intellect alone -- nor can you simply sink to their level and revert to calling people stupid and misguided. You've got be a street-fighter who can fearlessly fuse brain and brawn, you've got to get down in the trenches and make your case, whether they're listening or not.
We fear that what's getting lost in the rhetoric of our friends on the left is the notion that democracy is supposed to be unruly, even when the unruliness is stacked against you. Even if
you believe that the current round of town-hall fracasses is being driven by turf-roots talking-points zombies,
or by some mixture of right-wing obsctructionism and a coalition of
ill-informed, scared-shitless folks who're drinking the Republican
cool-aid, this is not a fight to be backed down from. The right is producing loud, disruptive, and misguided speech -- the answer should be a loud, boisterous rebuttal. If you want to hear what that response should sound like, then you need to download that shit up there and hear what Barney Frank did last night.
The takeaway sound bite so far appears to be the one Larry King played -- in which Frank asks a young woman to declare which planet she spends her time on. We're not sure that enough people realize that this woman was a plant from the LaRouche camp -- far more than the right-wingers, these are the crackpots at whom your scorn should be directed. The LaRouchies are their own tribe, and many of the sign-holding health-care skeptics (even some of the loud, obnoxious ones) went out of their way to denounce the LaRouche morons who'd set up shop handing out the Obama-as-Hitler flyers. We were actually a bit shocked that the media chose to focus so intensely on the least-credible speaker of the entire meeting -- ironically, the media are doing so merely because Frank had the sense (which CNN and Fox News apparently lack) to not dignify the LaRouche people's obscenities with any serious response.
Barney admitted that he doesn't find town meetings particularly useful -- a position from which, as he joked to the audience, he was not particularly dissuaded by the course of events last night. I disagree wholeheartedly. After witnessing the scene in Dartmouth last night, you could've come to the conclusion that there is a nicer, smarter, and more intellectually expeditious way of debating the merits of the health-care bill. But sometimes the calm, collected route isn't enough. I guess I'm trying to imagine a country where there isn't room for what we saw last night -- I don't know what you'd call such a place, but you couldn't call it free.