Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Using ambush tactics and perverting political protest into a beast more akin to anarchy, liberal activists, most of them from outside of Carroll County, turned U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley’s town hall meeting at New Hope Village Monday into a hostile environment, a showcasing of the rock-bottom worst contemporary America inspires in far too many of its people.

Not content to interrupt and hurl insults at the senator during the public forum, the mob that is Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (CCI) crowded Grassley, 77, in the hallway, blocking his entrance to a post-event media interview, and later, used physicality to prevent his clear passage from New Hope to a car.

It was shameful, hateful and, most of all, dangerous.

And CCI spent Monday night bragging about the disruptive behavior — the stuff of chaos not King — on the Internet in email blasts, claiming a “crash” of the Carroll town hall in which they made “demands” of the senator, a venerable public servant and exceedingly decent man.

“The group took over the town hall meeting and, for over an hour, demanded that the senator renounce his vote and pledge not to cut Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid,” CCI says in a press release.

How is an angry mob “taking over” a town hall an act that furthers democracy?

How is drowning out questions about the next farm bill and water conservation an advance of Carroll County’s interests?

What gives CCI the right to grab time from Carroll Countians who have their own questions but didn’t have the time or courage to ask them in the middle of the clock-sucking toxicity?

Most of the CCI contingent was not from Carroll County. Some were paid political hacks clearly bent on pushing (literally) Mr. Grassley into a YouTube moment with shouted, confrontational questions.

Now, of course, CCI members have a right to be heard, to voice their concerns in strong and certain terms.

But they overstepped the bounds of civil discourse in Carroll in a big way by confronting Grassley in a physically hostile way, inhibiting his free movement.

Their ugly tactics overshadowed any merit of message and discredit their full organization. CCI tossed its legitimacy out of the bus window and drove over it on the highway, backed up, ran over what was left of it, and smashed it to smithereens.

CCI, if judged on its actions in Carroll Monday, is in a word, despicable, a collection of mad-eyed characters who should have their local pharmacies on speed dial so they can pop pills to silence the voices in their heads.

In contrast, in a remarkable exhibition of civility and class, Grassley gamely fielded questions, answering them politely, and absorbed anonymous screamed barbs from CCI.

“This is kind of an exception to my town-hall meetings so I don’t want you to think this happens 99 times in Iowa,” Grassley told the Daily Times Herald in an interview following his event. “This may be the first time this year, and I only have 13 more counties to go to.”

I interview people for a living. And I can say unequivocally that Sen. Grassley is among the more accessible public figures in the Hawkeye State. Before or after events he always takes questions from the media. He’s never dodged. Not once.

What’s more, as someone who has covered hundreds of political events, including many with President Obama, I have a sense for what constitutes an assertive, persistent approach of a politician by a constituent, whether it is to ask for an autograph or photo or give him a piece of your mind. I see it all the time.

What I saw at New Hope Village was not that. It was aggression, pure and simple.

CCI is so sure it’s right about how to cure all that ails the nation that many of its members clearly feel justified in employing such a strategy.

Yes, CCI, you got your press release, your moment.

But you lost the respect of the Carroll County residents who witnessed your reckless behavior.

 We see you as the moon-howlers you are.