My Firsthand Account of Town Hall in NJ with Rob Andrews

I write a column for Examiner.com covering local politics in New Jersey. This column originally appeared on my Camden County Conservative Examiner page.

A crowd of about 1,000 joined Representative Rob Andrews in Rowan University’s Wilson Hall for a town hall meeting on healthcare. The local Democratic machine was alive and well as those found entering the hall were offered propaganda and signs that read “Standing Together For Health Care” and “Thank You” complete with Obama’s creepy “O” symbol.

Entering the hall, it was unclear as to what the breakdown of the crowd would be. Before the event began, as the Democratic party operatives continued to hand out signs to supporters of the bill, the excitement began. People began taking the signs and ripping them up to the loud cheering of many in the hall. Others took the “Thank You” sign and added a “NO” on top to change the message to “No Thank You.” The people sitting in my immediate area were all against the plan, although the ancient liberal couple sitting behind me were all over it. As they put it, “Obama won the election and we are trying to follow through on his agenda.”

Good for them. That is a foreign concept to many Republicans who get elected promising to be conservatives only to morph into liberals upon taking the oath of office.

The women in the front of me were discussing liberal attempts to silence Glenn Beck and brought home made signs against the plan. The man to my right was a retired educator that came to give Andrews a chance to explain himself, but who was nonetheless against the plan.

As the town hall began, it appeared to be a split audience, but with a majority siding against the plan. The breakdown was probably something like 70-30 against the plan. Not being a mathematician, that is just a guess based on audience reactions and questions.

If there were 50 questions asked, about 5 of them were in support of the plan and the rest were dead set against it. Most of the folks who did have questions in support of the plan weren’t much of a help to the cause. One women incoherently spoke about escaping communism and then said that she didn’t like the tone of people who dissented and that America would dissolve into anarchy if people continued to disagree with the government. Anyone who “escaped communism” probably wouldn’t be worried about people exercising their freedom of speech. Her accent also shifted back and forth between Russian and Cuban. Good try honey, collect your check from the DNC on your way out.

Another such supporter, sporting her lab coat to prove that she was a doctor, rambled on and on about taxing junk food, soda, cigarettes, booze, and pornography. When Andrews shot down her proposal, she continued about how great higher taxes would be for everyone–not really making a strong case for Obamacare. Many of the folks who were handed the Democratic party signs actually left about an hour or two into the four hour experience. They also didn’t bother to get up to ask questions. Perhaps they weren’t getting paid by the hour from the Democratic party? Sadly, there were no “spontaneous” outbursts of “Yes, we can!”

One final loon, a young man dressed in his Sunday best, boasted of being unemployed and then demanded to know”where the hell were you people when Bush spent millions on the war in Iraq?” Perhaps he got his dates mixed up and thought he was attending an anti-war Cindy Sheehan rave. His off-topic rant was put down when another man corrected the record that many of us were against Bush’s liberal spending policies and amnesty for illegals. Of course, we were for funding the war, being that we are Americans and actually want to stand up to dictators and terrorists around the world. Given that protecting the country is one of the few powers actually enumerated to the government in the Constitution, we chose to recognize the evil facing us and stand up to it. We also weren’t for the ever-trendy scenario of America losing a war, or as liberals would call it, “nirvana.” No doubt this young skull full of mush was given a job as a Democratic party operative for his troubles. Perhaps he even got “free” healthcare that will only cost his neighbors 50% of their income in taxes.

It appeared that the opponents of the plan were much more informed, carrying notepads with print outs of sections of the bill and coming fully prepared to engage in serious discussion with their congressman. The supporters simply robotically waved their “Thank You” signs in the air and proudly donned their tee-shirts mocking both President Bushes with their images and the words “Dumb and Dumber” underneath. Of course, one has to wonder whether anyone donning something derogatory towards the anointed one Obama would even be allowed into the venue.

To his credit, Representative Rob Andrews handled himself well. He never lost his patience, and he constantly called on the crowd to allow everyone to speak, whether for or against the plan. He also spoke of a willingness to listen to all ideas on healthcare reform. He conducted himself with class unlike many of his house colleagues like Barney Frank who labeled constituents the intellectual equivalent of “dining room tables” or the ever angry staunch Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae supporter Maxine Waters, who called opponents of the bill “neanderthals.” (Again, one has to wonder if someone leveled that epithet at Obama or Waters if we would be denounced as a racist instead of applauded for our wit as Waters has been.)

Andrews, however, lost some points on content. It was clear that Andrews knew the bill pretty well, and he proclaimed more than once that he read the entire bill. His answers, however, stretched the bounds of believability as he simply denied everything. He would listen intently as another person would read a passage from the bill and then claim that their interpretation was wrong. On one hand, he spoke definitively that what they thought was in the bill wasn’t, and then in the next minute admitted that people could interpret the vague language of the bill in different ways, inadvertently proving the opponent’s point that the bill is so laden with legalese that the government could interpret the language in any way it sees fit.

He expressed remorse for voting against Hillarycare in the 1990s and said that the higher taxes of the Clinton administration helped spur economic growth. He said the bill allowed for competition over state lines. He claimed (to a massive hall-wide boo) that there were no death panels in the bill. Those sections only speak to a minimum of care. He defended government intervention into the marketplace by listing the smashing success of government mandated airbags. He claimed that although the bill currently provides funding for abortion, the final bill would not. He also said that he personally supports funding abortion for poor folks. He claimed the bill doesn’t provide coverage for illegal immigrants and said he was against such coverage anyway. He also said he would not vote for the bill if he thought it would lead to single payer, but that he intends to vote for the bill. Finally, he boldly proclaimed that we are not yet at the limit for tax rates and that he thinks they could reasonably go up to 41-42%.

When confronted with the fact that the government never forecasts costs correctly and given the litany of failed government programs, Andrews didn’t miss a beat. When one person brought up the Obama administration’s admission on late Friday afternoon that the budget deficit projection of 7 trillion was actually 9 trillion, Andrews said with a straight face that he believed the government would get this one right. As you can imagine, he took some flak for that position.

He also took flak for the repeated attempt to characterize the bill as “promoting competition” in health care. He would often cite an “exchange marketplace” where people could go to shop from among private policies and a public option. Andrews’ assertion came across as incredibly naive. Opponents tried to point out that employers if given the choice between funding a private plan for their employees or dumping them in the less expensive public option, would choose the public option every time, thereby driving private companies out of business. Andrews simply disagreed.

He also told state workers and public school teachers that they could keep their own plans, although their employers would be given the option to opt into the public plan. To those of us in that profession, we saw the writing on the wall. In an industry run almost exclusively by activist liberals and Democratic party operatives and appointees, the public option would come calling for us sooner rather than later.

Another highlight came from Chad Javier of Marlton, who quoted from apparent Obamacare opponent Thomas Jefferson: “I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them.” This quote was met with loud cheering from the hall as Chad went on to rail against government healthcare.

A big theme of the night was trust. Nobody trusted the government to do what it says. Andrews tried to defend the government against these concerns, but wasn’t able to deliver. People spoke of their distrust of President Obama, Nancy Pelosi, the congress and pretty much everyone in Washington. They resented being called angry mobs or nazis. They demanded to know why this needed to be rushed through without a chance for everyone to read it and why it had to be written in such a way as to be “open to interpretation” by a government that has lost the confidence and trust of the American people. People complained of the massive throngs of unelected and unaccountable “czars” that Obama has appointed. They cited concerns over health care advisors such as Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel and what that meant for “death panels.” On all of these concerns, Andrews was largely silent. His response was to listen politely and then tell them that everything they said was “not in the bill.”

The “not in the bill” defense, however, didn’t hold up. One man pointed out that we are concerned not just about what this bill will do, but what it will lead to. Obama’s frequent public assertions of his love and fervent desire for a “single payer” and the repeated statements that he would need to take “baby steps” to accomplish this task were brought up. Again, Andrews had to parse words and speak in generalities to defend his President on this matter. When confronted with the inevitable rationing that government-run health care would produce and indeed has produced in every single nation where it has been enacted, Andrews again reiterated that there would be “competition” albeit one where one of the competitors makes the rules and is not bound to the idea of “making a profit” when it can simply print more money and raise taxes to cover any shortfalls.

Indeed, when a man got up and challenged Andrews’ assertion that the President was going in the right direction on this, by asking “which President are you following? The President who was for single payer? The one who doesn’t think it is a priority? Or the one who is attacking doctors by claiming they are chopping people’s feet off?” Andrews again was unable to defend his party. He simply reiterated that the President is on the right track, and the opponents were left with little more to go on than to just take Andrews at his word.

A lot of the people at the town hall actually did seem to trust Andrews. However, as the night wore on, more and more of them were telling him that he just lost their vote. It was sad to see the sometimes independent-minded Andrews do nothing more than toe the party line again and again. By trying to defend the indefensible, Andrews damaged his own credibility.

However, Andrews knows that it will take a miracle to unseat him. In election after election, Andrews has trounced his opponent (if there even is one) by 2 or 3 to 1 in November. Therefore, Andrews, with an eye on statewide office needs to work hard to establish his liberal bona fides and his loyalty to the party if he wants to advance. The Rob Andrews standing before the town hall meeting was a poster child for term limits. A once honest public servant, who sold his soul to the devil in order to retain power and advance his career.

Andrews did score points, however, on actually showing up. Several times during the night people thanked him for coming and then lamented that neither U.S. Senator ever steps foot in south Jersey.

One woman, Pam Crabtree, argued that we shouldn’t “burn down the house” just to fix a small problem. She also told Andrews that she didn’t feel like he was hearing the concerns of the people. The sentiments of Mrs. Crabtree were shared by most of the attendees. They appreciated the fact that Andrews showed up and treated them respectfully, however, they found his answers dishonest and not grounded in the reality of the bill. While Andrews “listened” to them, many felt they were not “heard” because Andrews made clear that he still fully intends to vote for the bill.

One thing was clear from the floor of the hall: this movement is not “astroturf” and it is not generated by the Republican party. The Democratic party was the only one busing people in and handing them signs. There were no manufactured signs for the opponents. Person after person said that they never have been involved in town halls or politics like this before but that the stimulus, cap and trade, and the health care bill were the straw that broke the camel’s back. These people were intelligent, reasoned people who did their homework. They were people who work hard and are trying to make ends meet. They were people who have lost faith in their government and were finally prepared to do something about it. These were people who were proud to be Americans, not merely “citizens of the world.”

If this much opposition can be drummed up to Obamacare in the heart of Democratic New Jersey, perhaps we do stand a chance at pulling the plug on this monstrosity before it’s too late.