AN EXPRESSION OF AMERICAN DEMOCRACY…. Karl Rove this morning criticized the president and the DNC for their concerns about far-right mobs disrupting public discussion of health care reform. As Rove described it, “Town halls = expression of American democracy.”

There are a couple of interesting angles to this. The first is the fact that these mobs are not in keeping with the American political tradition. Paul Krugman noted today:

There’s a famous Norman Rockwell painting titled “Freedom of Speech,” depicting an idealized American town meeting. The painting, part of a series illustrating F.D.R.’s “Four Freedoms,” shows an ordinary citizen expressing an unpopular opinion. His neighbors obviously don’t like what he’s saying, but they’re letting him speak his mind.

That’s a far cry from what has been happening at recent town halls, where angry protesters — some of them, with no apparent sense of irony, shouting “This is America!” — have been drowning out, and in some cases threatening, members of Congress trying to talk about health reform.

But there’s also the fact that Karl Rove, of all people, should know better than to tout town-hall meetings as the essence of American democracy — because if that’s true, the White House that Rove helped run couldn’t care less about democratic principles.

Rove may have a short memory, but when his old boss was the president, there were plenty of public town-hall meetings, all of which were carefully pre-packaged, organized, controlled, scripted events. Public audiences were screened to make sure attendees agreed with the party line, and if White House officials didn’t like a ticket-holder’s bumper sticker or lapel pin, he/she was denied entry.

For that matter, ticket distribution was limited to local Republican Parties, and in some instances, Americans who wanted to participate in the town-hall meetings were required to sign “loyalty oaths.” In some instances, a White House advance team would literally rehearse events in advance to make sure attendees said the right things to the president.

Sure, Karl, lecture us some more about town halls and the appropriate expressions of American democracy. It’s hard to beat this kind of expertise.

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Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.