For all the heckling and name-calling that's punctuated health care town halls nationwide, it's at least possible to argue that the gatherings have served a purpose. With jabbing fingers, sharp tongues and a smattering of FOX News talking points, angry crowds have told mainly Democratic lawmakers that changing the health care system is a bad idea.
By contrast, at U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn's Tuesday town hall in Woodland Park, it quickly becomes clear that the main disagreement among most attendees is whether a handful of pro-reform activists should be shown the door.
Lamborn, a Republican, starts off the 4:30 p.m. meeting by saying he's opposed to reform legislation before Congress. He does not think the problem of uninsured Americans is that big a deal, with many people either deciding they don't need coverage or failing to sign up for government programs available to them.
Then there are "illegal aliens," Lamborn says in one of the meeting's biggest applause lines, "who I do not think should have the same rights as Americans." (For the record, Democrats have shied away from making undocumented immigrants eligible for any public health care option, though some critics argue loopholes could give them benefits.)
As Lamborn continues speaking to the 200 people packed into the City Hall meeting room, he's interrupted by a smaller group of a few dozen progressives, many of whom are crammed into another room because they arrived late.
"We want to hear!" they begin chanting. Despite Lamborn's proposal to hold a "civil" discussion, they are soon drowned out by calls from inside to "Shut up!" After a brief pause, and without making any changes to the setup, Lamborn continues talking.
He goes on for close to 20 minutes before opening the floor to questions and, more often, comments. During one particularly long one, James Tucker, publisher of Colorado Springs' African American Voice newspaper, interrupts the speaker. Holding a sign that says "Quality health care is a right," he's shouted down with a second chorus of "Shut up!"
Otherwise, the meeting is mostly a right-wing lovefest. One man starts his monologue by saying, "Given the fact that President Obama seems to be a pathological liar ..."
The crowd erupts in cheers. Lamborn makes no effort to rebuff the accusation, but only asks "to let the man finish his question," which actually is more an assertion that Obama and allies in Congress cannot be trusted to uphold the Constitution.
The meeting ends promptly after an hour, with Lamborn receiving a standing ovation and a call that he should run for U.S. Senate.
"Thank you for being man enough to face us," one man says, betraying no hint of irony.
Outside, the crowd streams past Christy Le Lait and a handful of other sign-waving reform advocates who traveled from Colorado Springs for the meeting. One stops to argue with Le Lait, raising his voice and demanding that she tell him "where in the Constitution it says health care is a right."
Le Lait learns the man has Medicare coverage, and asks him why he deserves coverage more than some working families that have none.
"Stop asking questions!" the man bellows.
Later, Le Lait, a part of the Change that Works campaign of the Service Employees International Union, manages to sound hopeful about the exchange.
"I think," she says quietly, "I got him to think a little more about his Medicare."
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