Real Fears Lie Behind Town-Hall Protests

By Kathleen Parker
Sunday, August 9, 2009

Maybe it's the dog days, but three friends recently got in touch within a 24-hour period to catch up. Or more like it, to catch their breath.

One reported the onset of panic attacks. Another is seeking treatment for depression. The third began an e-mail asking for help with: "Reports of my employment have been greatly exaggerated."

The first two were women, 40-something and 50. The third is a man in his 50s. They all have one thing in common: No job.

No one is starving yet, but "yet" seems less remote than it once did.

"What if I can't find a job? Ever?" asked "Sandra." She laughed, but it was nervous laughter. Sandra isn't at all sure things will work out.

Though mired in the unemployment doldrums, none of my friends fit into the categories of outraged citizens known as "teabaggers" or "townhallers." Teabaggers are conservatives who staged tax protests this year; townhallers are those now confronting congressional leaders as they return home to chat up constituents.

Those town hall meetings aren't going so well. They have become explosive events punctuated with shouting. On Long Island, Rep. Tim Bishop (D-N.Y.) had to be escorted to his car by police. Bishop later temporarily suspended town hall events.

Generally considered a fringe group, the demonstrators have been described derisively by Democratic leaders. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi claimed that some were "carrying swastikas." Sens. Dick Durbin of Illinois and Chuck Schumer of New York have dismissed the protesters as irrelevant.

It's easy to disregard such people, especially as reports surface that some of the protests have been coordinated by FreedomWorks, the Washington lobbying group of Dick Armey, the conservative former House majority leader. Also, a Connecticut fellow named Bob MacGuffie and four friends who formed a political action committee last year have been distributing a memo instructing people how to infiltrate town hall gatherings and harass Democratic members of Congress.

Even so, I'm not so sure these protests are insignificant. Are my three friends really so far removed from such expressions of acute frustration? Lately, they have a new understanding of how uncertainty, complicated by unemployment and growing debt morphs into anger.

And then, perchance, to rage?

Sandra feels it.

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