Writings and observations

At Newberg: Not your daddy’s teabaggers

wyden

Wyden’s Newberg town hall/Linda Watkins

Oregon Senator Ron Wyden‘s town hall meeting at Newberg this evening was not so different, in many ways, from those we’ve attended in past years. But this is the era of the teabagger, and so some things were different. The venue (a high school commons) was larger with more seating, and questions were take on a ticket system. Those things, neither bad, were just reflective of a larger audience. When in past town halls in this county Wyden asked how many people had attended before, nearly all hands rose. Tonight, the percentage was maybe less than half – and the overall persuasion of the audience was decidedly different.

Last summer that might have suggested an overheated room with a chorus of people yelling, shouting, calling out “liar!” and “Nazi!” and such. And signs and pictures with Hitler mustaches for Barack Obama. But that was then. The opposition – which is to say, the conservative Republican opposition to health care reform and lots of concern about illegal immigration – was certainly in evidence. But it neither dominated the proceedings nor offered the kind of “they’ll hauling granny to the gas chamber” type of claims that made the rounds back then.

Things actually seem to have cooled off a bit, and Wyden’s handling of the meeting was not a lot different from the way he has dealt with the last few. On a string of issues, he delivered clearly-developed stances, well-framed. To one woman concerned about citizenship for children of immigrants here illegally, he was definitive: The adults should face consequences for breaking the law, but the kids did nothing wrong and shouldn’t be penalized. On health care, Wyden’s work on his own health bill, co-sponsored with both Republicans and Democrats, actually wound up giving him cover of a sort: To concerns about deficiencies in the bill which passed the Senate, he could and did argue that his own proposal was better (as, in our view, it generally is). He also argued that the Senate bill is useful as a starting point, and useful enough in that sense to merit a vote for it.

One moment from the meeting: A smartass in the back of the audience allowed as how Wyden “seemed intelligent,” but asked: Have you actually read that health care bill? Wyden simply responded that he had. And it seemed that from that moment, he wasn’t really challenged on the subject again.

He hit the point repeatedly, it seemed more strongly than in halls past, pressing for bipartisanship. No one called him on it.

Wyden has done a lot over the years cooperatively with Republicans, and his Healthy Americans Act famously has a bunch of Republican co-sponsors. But the lead Republican on it, Bob Bennett of Utah, has been targeted for defeat by activists in his own party. Increasingly, the congressional Republican caucus has put up a wall around itself, and many Democrats are responding in kind. “Bipartisan” seems almost an archaic term these days.

Wyden used it repeatedly, without a trace of irony. Maybe with a good deal of hope. And possibly the sense of what he conveyed, the possibility of more and better cooperation and less harshness, was one other part of what reached this audience, and made the meeting something better than it might otherwise have been.

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