In the midst of all the recent Health Care Town Hall Madness, one of Maryland’s two democratic Senators, Ben Cardin, held just such a meeting in Hagerstown Maryland. While these meetings were designed to provide taxpayers with information regarding the status of the Health Care debate, they have devolved into something that must make the recently arrested Harvard professor, Henry Louis “Skip” Gates shake his head and ask, “I was arrested for what”.
These Town Hall events have become scream fest as disgruntled gun toting, protest sign wielding attendees disrupt these meeting and deny their elected representatives a fair opportunity of informing their fellow citizens of what their government is considering. When judged by their rhetoric, these protesters seem to believe that they are paragons of Democracy and patriotism. When judged by their behavior however, a different story emerges. If professor Gates thinks the actions of these protesters, as oppose to whatever he said to a single police officer in his home, looks like disturbing the peace, he’d be correct. Common sense seems to suggest that any peace that exists in one’s own home is presumptively one’s own peace!
An objective look at Senator Cardin’s meeting revealed the same, frequently ugly visuals that were apparent in all the other snippets of these meetings that the media has televised. Many of these attendees morphed into angry protesters carrying pictures of Obama wearing a Hitler mustache and others accusing him of being a Nazi, a socialist, and a foreigner! As they had at all the previous Town Hall meetings, these protesters shouted down both Senator Cardin and those who sought to engage him in meaningful dialog. Whether it was Arizona, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana or Virginia, these protesters are almost always a very vocal minority of angry, disruptive, generally irrational and largely white citizens. It is that racial uniformity which, when coupled with a politician’s natural desire to be embraced by his or her constituents, makes the location of these events so politically curious.
This political curiosity is aroused, not by the suggestion that appearing before mostly, or even all white audiences is problematic, but because the most reliably Democratic voters are African Americans. So why don’t democratic Senators hold more of these events in the African American community? One has to ask, if politicians, who continued to see this type of disruption and sometimes outright hooliganism, occurring in the African American community, would they continue to attempt to conduct these important events in similar communities, or would they look for more receptive audiences?
In Senator Cardin’s case, most of the African Americans who supported him in the general election supported his opponent, Kwiesi Mfume, in the Democratic primary. Amongst the various reasons a voter would support Mr. Mfume’s candidacy, one important, yet largely ignored reason rest upon the fact that the United States Senate should have at least one African American within its ranks! When one considers the “special” treatment African Americans receive under this nation’s criminal laws (they consume approximately 14% of Americas illegal drugs, yet they account for 60 to 70% of those incarcerated for drug use) it seems pretty clear that (racially speaking) if you don't have a seat at the table, you’ll be on the menue!
This fact notwithstanding, democratic politicians (regardless of their race) know that they can depend on African Americans to support them at the polls. That being the case, it seems that Senator Cardin should have held these important constituent events at appropriate locations within the African American community. If Senator Cardin held his Town Hall event on the campus of Coppin State College, all Americans would still have been welcome to attend (as they were in Hagerstown) but it stands to reason that many of the disruptive, “Obama is Hitler” types would not have attended (many Republican voters vote for the party with no blacks in either house of Congress for that reason) and those citizens who wanted to learn and ask questions would have been permitted to do so.
If Democratic politicians want to continue to attract the overwhelming support of African Americans, they need to cater to this constituency in a way that reflects the support they receive on Election Day. Having defeated the candidate favored by most of Maryland’s African American voters, Senator Cardin nonetheless received the overwhelming support of the African American community. As a result, he should come back to their community (he campaigned there) and reward this loyal constituency by holding Town Hall events in their community. This change of venue would benefit the African American community, the Democratic process and would have created an interesting contrast as to how these events have been conducted in other communities.
Without the support of African Americans, Senator Cardin wouldn’t be in the United States Senate. The African American voters brought Senator Cardin to the dance, and he (and other) Democrats need to, as the saying goes, dance with them that brought ya!
Michael G. McFadden writes an opinion column for Examiner.com. His column can be found at http://www.examiner.com/x-21075-Baltimore-Liberal-Examiner
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