Townhalls Turn Violent

How did it go so far? Deceptive leaders, ill-informed crowds, pliant media, and the American system are all questioned.

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With the increasingly violent protests at health care town halls culminating in today's arrests at an event outside St. Louis, commentators are struggling to understand how things got so crazy.

Lying Leaders. A bold column by the Washington Post's Steven Pearlstein is sending shockwaves through the blogosphere. Post colleague Ezra Klein summarized it as "an uncommonly clear description of the modest plan under consideration and a brutal demolition of the smears and lies being told about it." Pearlstein called Republican leaders and reform opponents "so misleading, so disingenuous" as to be "two-faced" "political terrorists" who are "poisoning the political well."

Ill-Informed Protesters. Reacting to what he called "rioting" at a Tampa meeting, the New York Times' Paul Krugman dryly lamented the apparent hypocrisy. "By all accounts, many if not most of the rioters were elderly. So we have the spectacle of Medicare recipients rioting against government intervention in health care," he wrote. Krugman noted this morning that about half of the protesters at a recent town hall who opposed "any form of socialized or government-run health care" were also themselves on Medicare.

Where's the Media? Publius isn't content to just bash ill-informed protesters or the people responsible for disinformation. "These protests do worry me, but for a different reason," he wrote. "They worry me because they're a test of whether our media instititions are capable of informing the public." The Washington Monthly's Steve Benen agreed. "Right-wing criticisms of health care reform are reported as plausible, and Americans are understandably confused about who's telling the truth," he wrote, calling this "a test of our civil society."

Such is America. Matthew Yglesias, ever the realist, shrugged that this is simply the way our system works:

I think it's an unfortunate aspect of U.S. political institutions that they make it so easy for a defeated and discredited political opposition to mount a successful rear-guard campaign of political obstruction, but we've been playing the game with these rules for a long time so nobody should be surprised.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.