In the mid 19th -century, the leader and founder of the Mormon faith, Joseph Smith, decried the mob rule that continually threatened his followers and fledgling religion. Angry mobs hounded the early Mormons from one settlement to another until ultimately they shot and killed Joseph Smith at Carthage Jail in 1844. A subsequent leader of the Mormon faith, Joseph F. Smith, wrote, “We do not tolerate [mob rule]. Latter-day Saints cannot tolerate such a spirit as this. It is anarchy. It means destruction. It is the spirit of mobocracy, and the Lord knows we have suffered enough from mobocracy, and we do not want any more of it.”
The present-day conservative movement appears to be inheriting that dubious mantle from the religious bigots of the eighteen hundreds with their planned and systematic disruption of town hall meetings across the nation. I have, from time to time, complained on this bog about the vitriol and hate coming from right-wing “entertainers” such as Beck and Limbaugh. But the “shout down your congressman” and “intimidate other participants” methods being employed by conservatives at what should be one of the purest forms of our democracy, makes even Beck’s asinine conspiracy theories seem innocent, by comparison.
Now don’t get me wrong. Protest is an important and respectable part of our democracy, and I respect the fact that a minority of people want to maintain the unsustainable health care system (about 70% want health care reform). However, that minority has no right to shout down those who are in favor of reform. If they want to be part of the conversation, then join the conversation, don’t shut people up for having the temerity to disagree with you. There are any number of opportunities for the health care lobby to bus in protesters for staged events without depriving regular citizens of the right to discuss these monumental decisions with their elected representatives.
Perhaps the most ironic part of these staged disruptions is that they actually impede the ability of conservative citizens to 1) get accurate information about the nature of the proposed health care reforms and 2) to affect the way their representative will vote. There are sure to be some conservative citizens at these town hall meetings that aren’t planted there by the lobbyists, but what hope do they have of asking questions and offering feedback to their representative when Bubba runs the congress person out of the room in fifteen minutes?
No, the Republican party and their corporate sponsors have gone too far this time. Pepper your infomercials on right-wing talk radio with half truths and scare tactics if you must, but if you want to be a part of civil society, then you must be, well, civil. Otherwise you shame all of us and likely hurt your own cause, all for a glimpse of mob rule that you can post on YouTube and pretend is a spontaneous grassroots movement. Yes, Governor Boggs would be proud of you, but in this case I think you’ll find that, perhaps ironically, Americans will stand with those 19th-century Mormon leaders and not “tolerate such a spirit as this.”