Last week, after Missouri Congressman Sam Graves held a health-care town-hall meeting at Park Hill High School, KMBC Channel 9 reported that the debate had taken a "new turn." Reporter Jim Flink noted that Graves' crowd was "friendly" (to the Republican) and "partisan," but also suggested that there had been "a shift in strategy." The night's focus, he said, was "less on the fear and the frustration over the plan and more focusing on the fix -- fixing what's wrong with the current system."
I beg to differ with Flink's assessment of the night.
Granted, Graves does favor some insurance reforms (it should be portable if people lose their jobs; people shouldn't be denied for pre-existing conditions). And granted, no pro-reform disrupters showed up to give conservatives a taste of their own medicine, so the event was relatively calm (i.e., not filled with great TV moments).
But if anything, this was an anti-government rally hosted by a sitting congressman.
At one point Graves told his audience: "I have yet to see a program that the government runs well."
The line earned a loud round of applause, making it obvious that this type of crowd doesn't just favor small government -- this crowd is happy when it hears an elected official complain that government doesn't work at all.
Graves might have been working this crowd -- with full confidence that no one would accuse him of being a hypocrite. See, there are some government programs that Sam Graves likes.
In mid-August, Graves was happy to announce
that the U.S. Department of Agriculture had approved nearly $4 million in loans and grants for Carrollton,
town in Graves' district where the wastewater treatment system needs
some improvements. The USDA's Rural Development program, Graves noted in his press release, had a mission "to increase economic
opportunity and improve the quality of life for rural residents. Rural
Development fosters growth in homeownership, finances business
development, and supports creation of critical community and technology
He was also eager to announce his support for re-authorization of the federal Rural Education and Achievement Program (part of No Child Left Behind), which helps rural schools apply for federal grants. Between 2004 and 2008, the program funneled more than $848 million to 5,000 rural districts nationwide. According to Graves, "Programs like REAP ensure that all students have the same opportunities to succeed in life."
These would be examples of government programs that work, but Graves didn't dare mention that in front of these folks. Instead, he goaded them on.
"I don't want somebody in Washington making the
decision on my mother, going through cancer treatments, on whether
she's productive enough, or not productive enough, or old enough or
young enough or whatever the case may be," he said, again earning applause. (No mention of whether his mom's on Medicare.)
Early on, a man in the back contributed this:
"Everything that I've seen coming out of this administration, basically,
is anti-capitalistic." The man then suggested that everyone Obama has "brought into his
administration is a known communist." So his question was, "What are we going to do as Republicans to join force and fight all this stuff that the Democrats
are doing? They have the SEIU. They have all the other people that sponsor
their leftist movement. What can the Republican Party do, what can we
do as a community, to start fighting against this and start organizing
like ACORN and everybody else?"
Graves might have taken the opportunity to thank conservative talk-radio host Chris Stigall for acting as the evening's master of ceremonies, and remind the crowd that they could always tune in to Fox News for talking points and organizing instructions. Graves missed that opportunity, choosing instead to agree with his questioner. "The unfortunate
thing is Republicans, we don't do nearly as good a job getting active -- "
"We work for a living!" someone in the audience yelled, to laughter and applause.
laughed too. "I didn't say that." He said the Democrats were overreaching and he was confident that the pendulum would swing back to the right. "I'm pretty optimistic about it. We have to keep
the momentum going."
Later, another questioner wondered why Washington lawmakers weren't making more out of the fact that HR 3200, the main health-care reform bill in the House, "violates my right to life,
liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and possibly the 10th Amendment of
the Bill of Rights?"
Graves: "The bigger question is what
constitutional authority does the government have to take over our
health care?" (Big applause and hollers.)
(Apparently, the pre-amble's promise
that the Constitution intends to "promote the general welfare, and
secure the blessings of liberty" applies to sewage treatment plants and
rural school kids, but not the tens of millions of Americans who don't
already have health insurance.)
Graves thrilled the crowd when he said that the health-care vote would be "a career-changing vote" for everyone in Congress. "Make sure they [elected officials] know that, spell it straight out for
them. Here's the thing, too, you gotta remember: If they don't get this
stuff done when we come back in September or October or November, it ain't
gonna get done. Not next year -- next year's an election year!"
That's right, folks. Just fight off a vote until January, and we'll have won! We will have successfully avoided solving the most critical moral and economic problem of our time!
The evening's climactic moment came toward the end, when a woman stood up to say that she had postponed the celebration of her wedding anniversary to be there. She told the crowd she'd brought petitions from grassfire.org that had "thousands upon
thousands of Missouri signatures on them, so that you can take them
back to Congress and show them that Missouri is mad as hell, and we're
not going to take it anymore!" Wild applause!
Graves grinned at her.
"We want the folks to get
involved," she continued. "There are conservative Web sites out there, and you can make a
difference. We are making a difference right now. We are getting our
troops together. We're organizing our states. Our state has directors. And we're heading to Washington next month, September 10-12. We're
many organizations are joining together that this is going to be the biggest march
of conservatives that Washington, D.C., has ever seen!"
It was getting harder to hear her because of all the applause. "We're going to hand out pink
slips to all of those who are going against our Constitution! We are
united in our effort and we are there behind you and we are focusing on
all of the candidates that we're going to be replacing in all of the
states. And we are looking at people who are standing there and saying,
'Wait a minute, I am not a liberal, and I believe in morality, and I
believe in God and country and I'm gonna get this country back!"
Yep, the eight-month-old Obama
administration has stolen the country.
And there isn't one government program that's run well. Let's just not mention the fact that Graves has been among those in charge since he was elected to Congress in 2000.