John Feehery: Speaking Engagements

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Town Hall Meeting

Posted on August 19, 2009
Town Hall Meeting

In the beginning of American democracy, there was the town hall meeting. Especially popular in small New England towns, the town hall meeting gave everybody a chance to speak up who was so inclined about the direction the community was taking.

Of course, it was in a New England town where the community decided that certain people were witches and deserved to be burned at the stake, but I digress.

Two of my former bosses took different approaches to town hall meetings. Tom DeLay loved town halls. He loved to get fired up, he didn’t mind when folks disagreed with him, and he would get juiced when there was a big crowd.

Denny Hastert was much more low-key in his approach. When he went home, he was much more likely to hold impromptu town hall meetings at the local Walmart or coffee shop. He likes to tell the story about how he would go out to get groceries, but would come back four hours later, getting more than an earful from his constituents.

Presidents typically don’t do real town hall meetings. Their staff packs the room with fawning admirers, who typically fall all over themselves preaching the President’s talking points right back at him.

John McCain loved town hall meetings during the Presidential campaign, and he was actually pretty good at them. Like I always said, McCain can hit a curveball much better than he can hit one off the tee. The canned speeches were usually pretty bad, but in his town hall meetings, you could see his passion for politics.

President Obama’s town hall meetings were not newsworthy during the campaign and they aren’t newsworthy now, unless you think that the fact that some people still love him is news. Maybe it is.

This August, Republicans are loving the town hall format. There is nothing more gratifying than having your constituents agree with you. And from what I am hearing, their message of stopping the President’s health care plan, stopping the unbridled growth of government, and countering the Democrats’ plans to raise taxes is playing well back home.

Democrats? Well, not so much.

They are getting pounded, none so consistently as Senator Arlen Specter, the one-time Republican. He probably shouldn’t do any town hall meetings, because, well, he is out of step with his constituents.

But then again, so are most Democrats.

They aren’t liberal enough for their liberal base, and they are way too liberal for the rest of America.

Not a good place for them to be in. It will be very interesting to see what impact the town hall experience has had on these Democrats when they come back in September.

They have a choice. Support their base, support their President, or support the rest of America. Could be an interesting Fall.