Not to over-revisit the infamous Brian Baird town hall meeting at Vancouver . . . but apparently a revisiting, from one who was there, may be useful in forestalling some revisionism.
Joel Connelly of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer has a bullet-point column out today on how "Freedom of speech takes a beating." Exhibit one was the August 27 Baird town hall, at which the Democratic congressman, who recently spoke in favor of keeping American troops in Iraq for a longer time, took strong criticism from several hundred of the folks back home.
At it, Connelly writes, "the congressman [was] shouted down by an angry anti-war crowd. After a trip to Iraq, Baird had deviated from the party line by suggesting that the 'surge' is showing results. Baird is now being bombarded in radio spots aired by MoveOn.org. . . . Didn't Baird have a right to make his case?" Later, he wonders, "Consider, for instance, had Baird been challenged by an intelligent question from the crowd, along the following lines" - having to do with the persistence of the insurgency in Iraq, and ending with, "What's your answer, Mr. Baird?"
The column doesn't make clear whether Connelly was there. We were, and can say this much:
Baird did make his case, outlining it in some depth in the opening 15 minutes or so of the meeting, and expanding on it in response to questions; the audience sat quietly as he made his initial points, and only occasionally hooted at him later.
He was shouted at on several occasions, usually by individuals barking a short slogan, but he was not silenced; he handled the meeting with skill and grace (both tested severely) and maintained control of the proceedings. When he had something to say, he spoke; when he wanted to cut off a rambling monologue, he did (on several occasions), and the crowd accepted that. A number of questions were asked, and Baird answered them. The session was highly emotional, and emotions were expressed along with more intellectual responses, but it did not degenerate into chaos.
The sloganeering was accompanied by some intelligent questions, and comments too - remember that town hall meetings are supposed to be occasions not only for questioning the congressman, but also for telling the congressman what one thinks, even if in a less than perfectly formulated style. Baird accepted both kinds of discussion. And when the scheduled time ran out, Baird extended it to continue the talking. And emoting.
In fact, everyone got a chance to say their piece. It was hot and intense, but at core it was a congressman having a serious heart to heart with his constituents, reporting back to the district and getting comments from the voters. How that constitutes a case of beating up on freedom of speech is simply perplexing; it seemed to us then and still does more like a case of freedom of speech in action, exactly the sort of thing the nation's founders would have hoped for.