We can no longer be the silent majority

By Richard Larsen

August recess for the nation’s lawmakers was certainly not business as usual this year. With headlines and debate centered on the controversial overhaul of our health-care system, it could be fair to say many of them ran into constituent buzz-saws in their town hall meetings across the country.

While the exchanges at these meetings were sometimes confrontational, the freedom behind such truly grassroots response to a proposed totalitarian health-care system was inspiring. It would seem that those objecting to “Obamacare” had learned Thomas Jefferson’s truism, “All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.” And silent they were not.

Some of the statements and exchanges between lawmakers and their constituents were memorable, and many provide lasting lessons and imagery that should not be lost on an informed and attentive electorate.

For example, it was not that long ago that Speaker Nancy Pelosi encouraged and praised dissent, and said it was courageous to “speak truth to power.” It may have come as a shock to some, then, to hear from the Speaker that it’s now “un-American,” and that by so engaging, one must be part of a “dangerous, angry mob.” We might rhetorically ask what has changed from then to now?

Speaking of the Speaker, who is exceeded only by Joe Biden for making glib, nonsensical remarks, one of her best accusations against the town hall protesters was that they were “astroturf.” As Astroturf is to real grass, so likewise “astroturf” is to genuine grassroots level politics. Without question, what we witnessed in August was a legitimate grassroots response from concerned citizens about pending health-care legislation and dizzying expansion of government and the federal debt. The only real “astroturfing” we saw was when the health-care overhaul supporters began to show up en masse in buses. Wonder where they came from? I’ll bet the Speaker knows.

Illustrating what I said a few weeks ago that “Nazi” references really have no place in American political dialogue, the Speaker ignominiously called the protesters “Nazis.” She is obviously oblivious to the fact that Nazis are socialists, and that quite to the contrary, the protesters were standing up for their individual right to choose, which is anathema to socialism. If such ignorance was not so scary coming from the third-in-line from the president, it would be humorous. Pelosi’s accusation led to one of the best one-liners from a town hall attendee. Marine veteran David Hedrick at a West Virginia town hall declared, “If Nancy Pelosi wants to find a swastika maybe the first place she should look is on the sleeve of her own arm.” Marines don’t take kindly to pejorative characterizations.

Speaking of good lines, perhaps leading the “best of” collection from August town halls was one delivered by Dan Jeror, addressing Steny Hoyer, Pelosi’s second in command in the House. Jeror, after emphasizing that he was a registered Democrat, asked Hoyer, “Why would you guys try to stuff a health care bill down our throats in three to four weeks when the president took six months to pick a dog for his kids?”

Carol Shea Porter of New Hampshire thought it was below her dignity to answer a question from one of her constituents, and had the audacious retired policeman removed for even asking. How dare these lowly constituents question the omniscience of their puissant elected officials!

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee took a cell phone call in the middle of a constituent’s question about health-care reform. That sure goes a long way toward dispelling the notion that our elected officials aren’t listening to us!

Keith Olbermann of MSNBC referred to the protesters as “worse than racists,” while comedian Janeane Garofalo called them “racist rednecks who hate blacks.” But in an interesting twist of such typical radical characterization, Kenneth Gladney, a black conservative, was beaten up at a Missouri town hall by local Service Employees International Union members, one of them shouting racial epithets. So really, who were the racist rednecks? They obviously were following the White House directive to “punch back twice as hard.” Unfortunately for Mr. Gladney, they took the directive as literal. Not surprisingly, the event received scant coverage from the mainstream media.

For the “silent majority” that typically sits reticently on the sidelines waiting for the political dust to settle, the “Tea Party” protesters and outspoken dissidents to the transformation of America are the only semblance of a check and balance we have. With the legislative and executive branches under single-party control, and the mainstream media acting as their guard dog, all we have is our individual and collective voices of disapprobation. It’s time to no longer be the “silent majority.” This is a fight for the soul and future of America.

Award-winning columnist Richard Larsen is president of the brokerage firm Larsen Financial. He graduated from Idaho State University with degrees in history and political science.