Feared rage fails to materialize

FEARED RAGE FAILS TO MATERIALIZE…. About a week ago, as Congress’ two-week recess was getting underway, Christina Bellantoni noted “there are real concerns” among Democrats “about the next two weeks of Congressional recess spiraling out of control.”

And by “out of control,” Dems were thinking, “similar to last August.”

Lawmakers’ so-called Spring Break is about half done, and so far, ugly scenes have largely been avoided.

On their first recess break since passing historic health care reform legislation, members of Congress have not faced anything like the crowds and anger from anti-reform advocates they faced last summer, when guns, shouts and even fist fights became a part of more than a few town hall meetings. A review of local press coverage from the past week shows that the rage that met members on the weekend the House passed the health care bill has, for the most part, not followed them home.

Any number of factors could be responsible for the toned-down crowds over the past week. Conservative groups that organized protesters to pack town halls before the vote are largely staying out now that the legislative battle is lost for their side. Perhaps Democratic plans to mitigate the threat of protest at town halls have worked.

Either way, the town hall seemed to return to its roots last week — rather than a place for insults and misdemeanor assault charges, the meetings between constituents and their members are once again about relatively poor attendance and wonky Q&A sessions.

It hasn’t been entirely peaceful. Rep. Tim Ryan (D) of Ohio had to cancel a public meeting last week after threats of right-wing violence. Rep. Betsy Markey (D) of Colorado had to host a scheduled town-hall meeting on the telephone because of similar threats. In New Hampshire, Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D) arguably faced the most August-like circumstances — far-right lobbying groups targeted one of her events, and the congresswoman was confronted with hundreds of screaming conservatives.

But in nearly every other instance, the replay of last summer’s enraged right-wing activism hasn’t materialized. Evan McMorris-Santoro explained that Democrats, many of whom were genuinely worried about safety, took steps that “led to quieter, dare I suggest more boring, town halls this week — the stuff of the C-Span junkie’s dreams, maybe, but probably not the place where you’re likely to get your finger bitten off.”

If I had to guess, I’d say the biggest difference is the lack of entities with deep pockets whipping the base into a frenzy, and then organizing that collective rage. In August, there was no shortage of corporate/lobbying groups, including the poorly-named Conservatives for Patients Rights, eyeing the recess as an opportunity to kill health care reform through intimidation. The outfits would find sympathetic conservatives, and get them to public meetings. These same organizations would do the legwork — telling activists why to be angry, who to be angry with, and how best to express their anger.

This recess? Not so much.