Column: Planets of origin and town hall meetings

• Originally published in the Kane County Chronicle on Aug. 20, 2009

U.S. Rep. Barney Frank has been called many things in his life, but you can’t call the man afraid.

Despite knowing that a town hall meeting on health-care reform he was hosting Tuesday wouldn’t be a pleasant chat over a cup of steaming tea – far from it, in fact – he went ahead and held it.

According to the Associated Press, he went after one of the attendees who held a poster depicting President Barack Obama with a Hitler-style mustache.

“On what planet do you spend most of your time?” Frank asked the woman, who had asked why Frank supports what she called a Nazi policy.

Is this how you should talk to constituents – questioning their sanity and planet of origin? Probably not.

Is this how you should talk to a congressman – belittling a policy by associating it with a group best known for exterminating Jews? Again, probably not.

But at least Frank put himself out there for all to see. We’re still waiting for Rep. Bill Foster to do the same on this issue.

Foster has not indicated that he will hold a town hall meeting on health-care reform. To clarify, he hasn’t said he won’t.

Last Thursday at the Geneva Library, what was supposed to be what Foster calls a Neighborhood Office Hour in which constituents meet with Foster’s staff one-on-one for help got taken over by those who wanted to have an open-forum debate on the health-care reform instead.

While I wasn’t there, I did watch video of it.

Sure, some of the people got loud. And there were some people who took things to the extreme – the poster implying that the government and our first black president are going to enslave us was hardly in the best taste.

But it didn’t seem like things got out of hand, either. People – for the most part – waited their turn to talk. And most let people finish their say. (For the record, I cannot stand booing while someone is talking – it’s one of the most rude things a person can do. You can disagree with what someone has to say, but at least have the courtesy to let them say it before you boo. Even Cubs fans wait for players to strike out before booing.)

I don’t necessarily blame Foster for not holding a town hall yet, especially after a few of the ones held a couple of weeks ago became scarily unruly and needed police presence. But if he doesn’t want to hold one, he should come out and say so like Sen. Dick Durbin did.

“I won’t be doing sucker-punch town hall meetings,” Durbin told the Associated Press “They can do all the political theater they want, but I don’t have to supply the stage for them.”

I think a compromise can be reached here. And I’m not talking about the proposed teleconference town hall Foster and his staff say they have in the works.

I think Foster should host a town hall meeting and simply leave if it becomes “political theater.”

You should give people a chance to discuss the issues, but you certainly don’t need to stand there and take the abuse if people aren’t going to have a civil discourse on the issue and start shouting people down instead. We need real debate on health-care reform, not catchy slogans like “death panels” and unclear reasoning.

I never thought I would say this, but maybe Foster should be a little bit more like Frank – though hopefully he won’t start questioning what planet I’m from.

Joe Grace is the editor of The Chronicle. Write to him at jgrace@kcchronicle.com or call him at 630-845-5368.

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