(An open letter from the Chairman of the RLC to liberty activists attending health care townhall events this month)
I’ve been studying videos of the Townhall protests which have taken place so far, have talked to participants and have been tracking the media coverage and the spin which the left is trying to put on the protests. As a result I have some suggestions for Republican Liberty Caucus activists who attend these events which I hope you will also share with others who go with you.
The line of attack against the protests is to try to discredit them as “astroturf” events sponsored by healthcare lobbyists and organized by national issue advocacy groups like FreedomWorks. They’re also calling grassroots activists “mobs” and “rioters” who are trying to silence debate by intimidation. They’re even suggesting that protesters are being bussed in from other areas in completely staged events. Because it’s what they know and what they have done themselves, they’re assuming that our authentic grassroots protests are as bogus and contrived as the paid picketers sent out by the unions and the fraudulent protest rallies by paid ACORN stooges. At least they think they can make that accusation stick.
There’s almost a month of further opportunities ahead of us as legislators go to their home districts and meet with constituents. Before the left can seize control of the debate and totally distort public perception of our legitimate protests and very real concerns, we need to take some steps to make that more difficult for them and to counter their talking points. So when you go to a townhall meeting -- and I hope every one of you will attend one or more -- keep these five suggestions in mind.
1. Go to expose the truth, not just to protest. There’s a lot more potential to advance our issues if you get to talk and ask questions and give legislators a chance to hang themselves with their answers. Ask them questions and let them know what you want, what you’re worried about and that you will hold them accountable. Just waving signs and shouting slogans will let them paint you as bullies. Some townhall meetings have already been cancelled because of protests, so you have to appear non-threatening. Be nice, but don’t let them get away with anything. Challenge their talking points and spin with the facts. Keep calm and demand answers.
2. Go with questions in mind. Have several thought out in advance so that if someone else asks one you wanted to ask you have a back-up ready. Read the Health Care bill (HR3200 on opencongress.org) and find something in it which bothers you. Preface your question by telling them that you’ve read the bill or most of the bill. Be honest about it and ask them about specifics. Ask them how they plan to pay for the massive cost of the “public option” without raising the deficit as Obama has promised. Will it mean raising taxes? Ask them if you’ll be able to stay with your current doctor or change from one private plan to another under Obamacare. Ask them how they expect private insurers to compete with a tax-subsidized government “public option.” Ask them if they’re going to enroll themselves and their faimily in the new system. Ask about the penalties for small businesses and individuals which want to opt out of the system.
3. Don’t limit your questions to healthcare. Once you have the floor you can’t be brushed off before you can get a question off, so ask about other issues which concern you. Ask about the new Food Safety act (HR2749) and whether it’s a good idea to put control of our food supply under the FDA. Ask them if they are going to support the Federal Reserve Transparency Act (HR1207). Ask them whether they think the “Cash for Clunkers” program (HR2751) is a good idea considering it encourages so many Americans to take on more debt. Ask them if they support the National Right to Carry Reciprocity Act (HR197) and the Citizens Self Defense Act (HR17) which protect the rights of gun owners. Ask them if they support the Medical Marijuana Patient Protection Act (HR2835). Ask about the cost of “Cap and Trade” (HR2454) and how much it will cost taxpayers and small businesses. Ask if they think that creating special classes of privileged citizens under the Hate Crimes Bill (HR1913) is a good idea. There are lots of good issues to raise and you can find all the bills on opencongress.org. Just make sure you know the issue you’re asking about and don’t let them get away with brushing off your question. If all else fails, just ask them if they’ve actually read the Health Care bill or if they read all the bills they vote on. That seems to throw all of them for a loop.
4. Don’t just hold Democrats accountable. If there are Republican Congressmen or Senators in your area who are holding townhall meetings don’t give them a break. Attend their events and ask them the same questions you would ask the Democrats and ask them clearly if they are going to support or oppose Obamacare. Ask them about other issues as well. Let them know that you don’t want them caving in to the Democrats on these issues and that you support them if they remain true to Republican principles of fiscal responsibility and individual liberty.
5. It’s a small technical point, but vitally important. When you are called on, state your name and where you are from very clearly. This will allow the media to follow up with you afterwards if they want more information and it will make very clear that you are from the congressman’s district or at least his state and have a legitimate reason to be there. Don’t let the media portray you as a shill or an outside agitator. Stand up, be counted and be clearly identified.
Remember to have confidence and not to be be intimidated. These are your representatives. You pay their salary and they should be responsive to your concerns. Be knoeledgable, be polite, make your points and ask your questions clearly and then let them respond. Ask a followup if you can. Their response is likely to do them more harm than anything you say if you can expose them as ill-prepared, ignorant or dismissive. Be informed. Be outspoken. Let them know you hold them accountable.
National Chairman, Republian Liberty Caucus