THE WORST AMERICA HAS TO OFFER…. They served as interesting bookends. President Obama hosted a very strong town-hall event in New Hampshire on health care this afternoon, featuring good questions — from supporters and opponents of reform — and covering a lot of ground.

The president’s event began on the heels of Sen. Arlen Specter’s town-hall event in Lebanon, Pa. Watching Obama’s gathering, one got the sense that it was American politics as it’s meant to be done. Watching Specter’s, one got the sense that the American political system is an experiment on the verge of collapse.

Senator Arlen Specter and his staff tried mightily to control a town hall meeting this morning but he was repeatedly booed and heckled by a majority of the 250 people inside a large hall here at the Harrisburg Area Community College. At least 700 more were kept outside, police said.

Inside, fury erupted over a range of topics, from health care to immigration, government spending and the cap-and-trade program to control pollution. Many also expressed broad if unspecified disdain for the government and for President Obama.

“Where do you see an honest man in politics?” one man asked Mr. Specter. “Tell Obama to represent us as an American and if not, there’s other countries!”

It certainly wasn’t Specter’s fault, but this event was enough to make one weep for our future. Fox News’ Megyn Kelly called it an “extraordinary showing,” filled with “informed” and “articulate” Americans.

Perhaps Megyn Kelly was watching a different event. More likely, Megyn Kelly doesn’t know what she’s talking about.

Specter’s largely right-wing crowd insisted President Obama isn’t an American. One nutty man said to applause, “One day, God is going to stand before you and he’s going to judge you!” Another yelled, “This is the Soviet Union, this is Maoist China.”

One attendee drew a standing ovation when she said health care reform is about “dismantling” the United States and “turning” the country “into Russia.” She later added that she feared toilet paper rationing.

Someone in the audience wanted to explain that the Qu’ran says that “all unbelievers will be executed.” The same person added that if we close Gitmo, “criminals” will “escape” and we’ll find “a bunch of innocent people are murdered. And that’s what’s gonna happen.”

We’re better than this. We have to be.

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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.