Report from Mendon

I've just returned from Eric Massa's town hall meeting in the Village of Honeoye Falls in the Town of Mendon. I left after 90 minutes of the meeting. For all I know, it's still going on, since Massa said that he'd answer all the questions before he left.

When I arrived about 15 minutes before the scheduled start of the event, cars lined both sides of Route 65 for at least a half mile on either side of the Mendon Community Center. At least a couple hundred people gathered under and around a picnic shelter behind the building, where Mendon officials scrambled to get a public address system working to amplify Massa's voice.

The crowd seemed equally divided between supporters of single-payer health care, and those opposed to government-run health care. Some of the supporters of government health care were identified by signs supporting HR 676. A few of the opponents sported yellow t-shirts and caps emblazoned with, which marked them as Glenn Beck followers. Why anyone would want to be identified as such is yet another mystery of the evening.

Most of them crowd was able to keep their mouths shut while others were speaking. Unfortunately, some of the health care opponents were unable to contain their righteous fury and frequently barked out a few pet phrases to drown out Massa or his questioners. Common chants were "stop lying" to Massa, and "Free Enterprise" and "Capitalism" whenever government alternatives to private insurance were discussed.

Massa, who had to remind the crowd to be polite a number of times, took the heckling in stride. He began the meeting by displaying the current healthcare bill, HR 3200, and pointed out that he had read the whole thing. Unfortunately, the same could not be said of most of those in attendance. Instead, many had to make do with emails from right wing organizations eager to spread falsehoods about the bill.

Perhaps the most glaring example of that was a gentleman who was actually crying by the time he was done asking his question. He believed, wrongly, that some language had been added to the bill that would allow government funds to pay for abortions. Massa repeatedly and patiently explained that this was impossible, because the Hyde Amendment prohibits the use of government funds to pay for abortions. This has been true since 1976, and, unfortunately, will be true for years to come, but green polo shirt in the front row wasn't going to accept Massa's answer. He thought government funds were going to be used to "kill babies".

Similarly, some poor woman was positive that she would be forced to choose the public option if she changed jobs. Leaving aside the fact that there's no really strong public option in HR 3200, Massa rightly pointed out that she'd have to take whatever insurance her new employer offered if she changed jobs. The same woman had also heard that the bill would allow the government full access to her bank account. Massa pointed out that there was a provision in the bill that all providers would have to take payments via electronic funds transfer.

Most of the healthcare opponents seemed to be a bit stymied by Massa's position on HR 3200, and by his position on other hot-button bills. He opposes HR 3200 as written because it has a weak public option. He voted against cap-and-trade. He voted against the Iraq War supplemental on the grounds that we had no exit strategy from Iraq, and therefore there's no end in sight to our spending there. Any indication of fiscal conservatism garnered wild applause from the conservatives in the audience, yet the same people applauding and yelling for some of Massa's votes were calling him a liar a few minutes later.

All the Rochester TV stations were in attendance at the meeting, along with some print reporters. Presumably, it will lead the 11:00 news. I'm not sure how it will play, but neither of the groups at this meeting will end up happy. Those supporting HR 676 will be dissatisfied because even the most robust version of HR 3200 will not include a single-payer option. The Glenn Beck listeners will be mad because the government will be more involved in healthcare than ever before.

But I'm happy because I'm done straining to hear what Massa has to say over the catcalls of a dozen teabaggers who feel the need to holler every time their elected representative says something they don't like.


Politics has become a contact sport and it is a shame. But I think it started on the other side of the aisle.

Sorry, not buying it -- "He started it" doesn't even fly on an elementary school playground.

As someone stated below: "The left is being forced to take some of its own medicine with raucus and organized protests" - Sorry - but civil discourse ended long before I ever heard of Glen Beck - and it wasn't the right that ended it.

I'm not going to re-argue the '60s, but in the 29th district, by far the most uncivil behavior I've seen on the part of any protesters in the last four years was exhibited by the Glenn Beck crowd last night. They just could not keep from interrupting others while they were speaking, and generally making it hard for everyone to hear.

I really don't mind protesters who can shut up while others are talking, no matter what side they're on. But this crew thinks that they have some kind of God-given right to be jerks. And all the "they started it", "we weren't the firsts" and "lefties stop crying" aren't going to change that fact.

Also, though I don't mind protesters, I don't think their tactics are especially effective. Glenn Beck loves it because his "army" is getting him ratings, but I don't see how it does Republicans in general any good.

Pretending for a moment that it did start on the "other side of the aisle," if it's so shameful, why should members of the opposing party continue it? Doesn't the mantra of "personal responsibility" require them to rise above childish and destructive behavior?

I went fully prepared to tell two stories about a 73 year old friend who shattered his leg into 50 pieces in Florida in March, and his BC/BS policy decided not to cover him (he was in a rehab center--not a hospital and he was out of the service. My second story was about all the red tape my son had to continue a laser treatment after he had approval. I thought Eric wanted to hear these type of stories. What we actually got was those with actual questions or those who told their philosophy, then ended it with a lame question.
When I arrived I was in line behind someone who was complaining how the government can't run anything right. He then was wondering where the ACORN plants were. The he saw 3 blacks and indicated that they were the ACORN plants.
I thought that Eric did a good job, showing that he is more independent than a Democrat. I thought he did a good job talking about the 'myths' that are out there. I think some people actually learn new things about the law, I know I did.

It's really hard to understate how well Massa handled himself - he was a voice of reason and calm in a sea of anger and ignorance.

Rottenchester, I was actually in town with some final business legal issues created from my move to Houston. I knew if I checked in on your blog I would hear your point of view.

I am glad to hear Massa took all questions. I can understand how people would think it will funded abortions. Pelosi could not answer the question when put before her and many of the congress reps that push this are rabbid pro choice, Obama himself has some extreme positions on abortions. When you couple that with a 1018 page bill that leaders like john conyers doesn't think was necessary to read I can understand how anyone could confusion would come out of it.

For me to support it I would have to see the dropping of a public option and incresed competition in the insurance. I did call Massa's office and was informed that he does not support the bill as is. I hope it is not just subterfuge and it goes through serous real change.

I would also like to comment on Glenn Beck. Beck has just as much right to organize as does the community organizer Obama himself. The crying by the left is basically that they are being out organized. The left is being forced to take some of its own medicine with raucus and organized protests and it will not change. Be prepared to see much of this and be prepared to now start complaining about it in the same manner as the right copmlained about ACORN.

I can understand how people would think it will funded abortions.

Me too, because they're being spoon-fed lies by organizations whose intent is to rile people up rather than inform them. It's not the thousand-page bill that caused last night's ruckus, it's organizations that take a sentence or two completely out of context to convince people that the evil government is going to empty their bank account.

Also, I don't question Glenn Beck's right to organize an army of ill-informed dupes who think, for example, that Congress would pass a bill encouraging euthanasia (which is one of the questions somebody asked). But I do expect this bunch to be able to shut their mouths while others are talking, which doesn't infringe on their constitutional right to staggering ignorance.

Finally, there was no evidence at all that Beck's group out-organized other interest groups. For every yellow t-shirt, there was a sign from a HR 676 supporter. There were a bunch of Massa for Congress bumper stickers on cars. The turnout was huge on all sides.

Glenn Beck is a retarded dry-drunk ex junkie ( self-named) rodeo clown. A real role model. Like follows like I suppose.

Now these are some civil remarks :)

We arrived 15 minutes after the meeting started looking for parking. As we drove down Route 65, I made a point to check out the license plates and backs of cars and was "surprised" to find so many that had out of state license plates, or had dealer stickers or plate frames from Buffalo, Syracuse, or even further to the east.

Also, taking a look at the sign-in sheets that were stacked over at the table, it was pretty clear many people didn't sign in. Those that did seemed to at least mostly be from the Rochester area.

I think the sign-in sheets do help determine whether a town hall meeting is stacked with out of district participants, which I had no doubt there were plenty, or really represents the feeling inside the 29th.

The level of discourse was as I expected. A very small number of obnoxious people shouted out repeatedly, and were all grouped in the middle back canopy area. A near-equal number hushed or shouted back at them when they kept interrupting.

Had it gotten even slightly more unruly, Massa's staff could have quietly identified who was responsible and found a way to eject them. But because they were at least equally confronted with those who support reform, their effectiveness was considerably reduced.

To be honest, I had no idea what the yellow shirt people represented, and I'm more politically involved than most. I suspect the vast masses of ordinary people there would be even less aware. Representing you are with Glenn Beck, whose nuttier than a pecan factory, is not a credibility booster whatsoever, and if they were doing most of the shouting, that speaks to the lessons learned from their master, who compares himself to a rodeo clown, so I am not sure how seriously they expect people to take them.

The protesters thought they were clever, but were repeatedly stymied by Massa's positions on policy in general, which allowed him to easily steer around a lot of the talking points. Being a veteran deflated the rhetoric from those who would use the "I fought for this country" line, with the exception of the nutty old guy near me who at one point feigned outrage about swastikas and Nazi references that nobody was really making. He was waiting for anyone to even mention the word so he could bark that one out.

Massa had also read the bill, something protesters obviously had not done, wasn't willing to go on a spending party, which brought down their rhetoric on "big spending government," and had opted out of the health care benefits enjoyed by Congress until everyone can get them, which also ruined the repeated attempts for them to claim Massa was getting something they could not (except for one nut that kept calling out he was getting military benefits... something HE EARNED from his service).

The inevitable anti-abortion stuff was raised by one man who put on one of the worst overacted emotional breakdowns I have ever seen at a public event (why is it always men who bring up the abortion issue at these kinds of events). I had wished Massa would have queried whether this man was also opposed to contraception coverage.

I was also unimpressed with the stagecraft of one woman who donned a white jacket prop to claim she was a nurse who then recited talking points that had the medical community who did attend shaking their heads wondering what in the world she was talking about. One doctor who later asked a question was telling his wife he didn't buy her act for a second.

In all of these kinds of meetings, there is one point where everything is crystallized about the sentiments of each respective side. For me, it was hearing honest questions from ordinary people about whether the bill would have mental health parity and co-pays -- real questions from real people, and when one young guy stood up and boiled down the rhetoric of the opposition to his point that nowhere in the Constitution does it claim he (or any of us) should have to be responsible for taking care of each other in this society, it is up to each of us individually to take care of ourselves.

The Ayn Rand moment really speaks a lot about those who fundamentally believe that as long as they have theirs, all is well. That the sense of people helping people is fundamentally wrong and represents socialism, and that the individual right is more important than collective will (except usually on culture war issues of course). These are the same people, when you drill down, who will inevitably tell you that because nobody helped them with issue "x" in their lives, why should anyone, least of all them, help you or anyone else.

That's the fundamental philosophy of those whose individual determination of the outcome of the 2008 election is fundamentally different from the results the reality-based community watched on CNN.

Thankfully, these kind of people represent a small minority in this country, and if there was a way we could give them an opt out of benefiting from collective will and the projects that come as a result, they could live out their Ayn Rand theory of living on a compound somewhere in Texas. That would be a Survivor-like TV show I'd watch as they destroyed one another trying to climb on top.

Eric Massa had the perfect response, once again noting in the military, you are only as strong as your weakest link. Massa's idea is to strengthen that link. The audience member's idea would be to throw him in the sea.

In the end, I don't think any opinions really changed as a result of this meeting. It's more important than ever to just get on the phone and make it clear to Rep. Massa that as a constituent, you want real health care reform with a public option a.s.a.p.

I think any reasonable person confronted with a constituent with a story about a dying loved one having to deal with an insurance company to decide how fast they die has considerably more impact than a screamer in a Glenn Beck t-shirt who applauds every nutty thing Glenn Beck says.

Thanks for the report, Phil, very interesting.

I was mulling over why this town hall didn't end up in violence like some others, and I think part of the reason was that it was outside so everyone wasn't packed together so closely, and there was no anxiety about who's going to get in and get a seat.

As for how I could id the Glenn Beck supporters -- they had "" on their t-shirts.

I had wished Massa would have queried whether this man was also opposed to contraception coverage.

I wish anyone would question any male abortion opponent about whether he's also opposed to erectile dysfunction treatment coverage.

IVF is another one -- there's a lot of handwaving about that among some of the anti-abortion crowd, even though millions of embryos die in freezers every year.

Sorry - but civil discourse ended long before I ever heard of Glen Beck - and it wasn't the right that ended it.

Yeah, right. It was the left that pioneered the practice of being payed to bus around a bunch of elderly people and telling them their government was going to kill them.

It's not the aggressiveness, it's the stupidity. These people have no idea what they oppose, they've just been wound up and turned loose on a world they're too stupid to grasp. The use of this kind of trash has been the rightwing model for the last thirty years.

Your respect for the intelligence of seniors is remarkable

The commenter could have said it more politely, but somebody at the meeting did ask about the euthanasia issue. There's nothing in the bill about that -- somebody is preying on seniors on that one.

Probably - but my point is most seniors are smart enough to know that and really do have brains that work

And you have no idea what you are supporting!

I haven't really mentioned what I support - but does anyone really know what will happen if and when the bill passes? I think not.

Was the man who spoke about abortion being included in this healthcare bill correct?


Read the Wikipedia link on the Hyde Amendment in the main post. It is consistent with what Massa said at the town hall meeting: no Federal money can be spent to fund abortions.

Reading the AP article, it seems that the issue is that there might be a government subsidy paid to individuals who then buy private insurance. Since some private insurance plans pay for abortions, it looks like there may be a bit of a grey area here, one that could be easily addressed by a tweak of the bill's wording.

Still, that's a far cry from what the guy at the meeting was talking about: direct federal funding for abortion.