Beyond the 47-percent-esque Comment: What it felt like at David Vitter’s town hall.
by Courtney C Horne @FireezDragon
Recently I went to a David Vitter town hall meeting on a personal mission to video the whole thing. You never know when a politician is going to say something crazy or terrible so it seems like that is a good thing to do. And sure enough Vitter said something terrible. Plus, best I could tell, I was the only non staff member videoing when he did.
He said that people who support the affordable care act,”the other side” in his words, are people who “get something for nothing.” It was eerily reminiscent of the 47% comment from Romney and I wasn’t the only one who reached that conclusion. Mother Jones decided to run the video I shot of it.
While I think that is certainly the most newsworthy minute of the town hall, the whole thing was a surreal experience and you can watch the whole video if you are interested.
(Because of limited technical resources, I used ustream to shoot the video- archiving every few minutes during pauses or applause so as to make sure I didn’t lose much video if my phone failed. As a result there are some weird cuts in the video with roughly 3-5 seconds gone at each one. There is also three minutes missing where my phone did freak out. Luckily the method I was using meant that I only lost that 3 minutes)
If I was to sum of how the room felt, I think I would say that it was a bit like being stuck inside Rush Limbaugh’s brain.
There was a tremendous amount of thinly veiled racism, anger, and fear in the room. It made it a viscerally uncomfortable experience. I almost felt like I needed a hot shower to decompress after being exposed to the rhetoric that came out of that audience. Vitter mostly stuck to his talking points, but the way he engaged the room made it clear he would gladly feed off their anger and fear.
At points, the crowd started yelling. One of the things they yelled about was impeaching the president. When Vitter said he thought it would backfire (not that the President hadn’t done anything legally impeachable- just that it may not work well), the crowd became visibly agitated with him. Josh joked later that if we had a plant in the room we could have gotten them started chanting “RINO” at that point easily. I suspect Vitter learned about impeachment backfiring after his involvement with the effort to go after Clinton.
One thing he didn’t learn during the Clinton years is how stupid it is to try and shut the government down. More anger came out of the room as they screamed to “shut it down” (while sitting in a government building) and this time Vitter didn’t disappoint as he stated support for a shutdown over the affordable care act. When a person spoke up about the other GOP hostage strategy of refusing to raise the debt ceiling and called it irresponsible, Vitter said that it was the only leverage the GOP had and that he thought it should be used.
Most of the people who spoke had nothing but positive things to say about Vitter. It seemed like they had used the what do you want to talk about sheets to direct the meeting to be heavily focused on people asking him to “get rid of Obamacare.” When one man explained that he was concerned about the senator’s divisive tone on the topic, Vitter said that he didn’t think there was anything wrong with his tone and made a crack about Harry Reid. The crowd, for its part, seemed hostile to the poor guy who had been concerned about divisiveness and afterwards I saw older people lecturing him on why “obamacare” had to be stopped.
But it wasn’t just fear of “Obamacare” hour in the room.
There was also birtherism. David Vitter ignored the guy demanding impeachment, calling the President a scumbag, and talking about birth certificates question and just moved on neither endorsing the birther idea or rejecting it. For my part, the old lady next to me and my friend told us to “not laugh” at the birther because he had “never shown his real birth certificate.” I told her that was nonsense and we were then told we were too young to know anything. I then told her she just said that because he was black. There is something so racist about birtherism that I have reached a point where when someone spouts it at me I am going to call it what it is. (The same old lady prior to the town hall told me how much she loved the public library and then later yelled that we didn’t need any government)
And because no right wing event is complete without it there was stuff about the pretend IRS scandal complete with ignore left with groups that were also scrutinized and some crazy nonsense about Benghazi. Unlike with the birtherism, Vitter engaged both of these conspiracy theory level ranting themes as valid topics that he claimed to be hard at work on.
There was a bit of right wing talking point I hadn’t heard previously claiming a war on the elderly that the senator engaged with favorably while the old man spouting it talked about death panels and how the minimum wage no longer being $5.25 were both attacks on the elderly. (His assertion was that not being able to pay people $5.25 an hour was hurting old people who needed to hire people to care for them- something so grueling and exhausting I can’t imagine anyone wanting to do for the current min wage, much less the old one)
He also engaged favorably with a white woman who was explaining why she thought the GOP should be “educating” Hispanics about how they are really Republicans by nature. Acted like it was a valid assumption that adult Hispanic people (and other minorities) need to be taught that they were voting wrong and that really they should be voting for the Republican party. Like it was somehow valid that she was implying that whole groups of people were too ignorant to make their own choices. It struck me as a really thinly veiled racism that the woman was spouting.
And in fact the tone in the room about the President reflected this sort of dog whistle, don’t say the n word instead say things that imply it for other white folks, kind of rhetoric. (like the GOP southern strategy in the flesh) There was the birtherism of course (which came complete with calling the President a scumbag.) There was also a guy who said the president “runs his mouth too much” which really reeked of him wanting to call the President of the United States an “uppity n—-.” In fact, I am not sure that in a different atmosphere that guy may not have said just that. And there was the guy telling Vitter that he needed to call the President a liar (not about anything specific, just in general and frequently) – which while not directly racial in tone seems like it would be less likely for that sort of disrespect for the office to be running rampant if the President were not a black man. After all, many of the old white men in the room likely still think they should be able to call a black man “boy.”
I actually think the tone in the room- that sort of impeach/ birther/ racist/ shut the govt down medley that spewed forth- is why Vitter thought it was okay to call people who opposed him takers. I think he felt safe in the room full of people yelling about impeachment and immigrants (there was a bunch of anti immigrant stuff that came up throughout). And like when Romney felt safe in a room full of the very rich, he started to veer a bit off script. And I am just glad I was there to catch it and that Mother Jones saw fit to run it.