The Unintended Consequences of Mob Harassment (Redux)

THE UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES OF MOB HARASSMENT (REDUX)…. Following up on yesterday’s item, the upsides to right-wing activists bullying their way through town-hall meetings are clear: they get to intimidate supporters of health care reform, shut down discussions that might help spread the truth, and suggest to the media that opposition to reform is broader than it really is.

But there are downsides, and one of the angles to keep an eye on is whether the right is turning off potential allies. Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) was one of the many Democratic officials to get slammed by a far-right mob this week. As Eric Kleefeld noted, the Napa Valley Register — a conservative newspaper — ran an interesting editorial on the gathering today.

The display was unwelcome — and unsuccessful if it was meant to move health care reform supporters toward considering the concerns of the critics. Several callers to the Register on Tuesday reported they were repulsed by the aggressive tactics of some members of the crowd. [emphasis added]

To the degree the catcalls, chants and shouts were organized — and it appears from events around the country that they were — we strongly suggest that the organizers find more constructive ways to get their message out.

How many of those who were repulsed might have been sympathetic to the conservative activists’ concerns, right up until the fanatics became belligerent?

Likewise, Rep. Gene Green (D) hosted an event last night in his Texas district, and he also had a run-in with a right-wing mob — some of whom admitted they weren’t even constituents of the district. One of the attendees at the town-hall meeting told the local Fox affiliate that he went to the event intending to give his congressman “a really hard time,” but changed his mind after having to endure a conservative activist who was “screaming behind my head for the last hour.”

Now, these are obviously just two anecdotes. There may be other examples of these mobs turning off mainstream audiences — I encourage readers to let me know if you find any — or perhaps these were random moments that generated isolated backlashes.

But the far-right groups and activists involved in these angry mobs should probably realize that there’s a cost to their over-the-top antics. They’re getting the teabagging crowd whipped up into a frenzy, but they already had that. Most Americans tend to think healthy debate and respectful discourse are good things, and strident bullying and obnoxious confrontations aren’t.