Bear with me and you’ll learn about crocodiles

The signs being waved at a town hall earlier this year in Long Beach, were green cards signifying the crowd agrees with the speaker.
The signs being waved at a town hall earlier this year in Long Beach, were green cards signifying the crowd agrees with the speaker. jphampton@sunherald.com File

My job requires me to spend a sometimes unhealthy amount of time stumbling around that house of mirrors known as the internet.

Here’s how it works. I look for a vitally important piece of information — say, can a crocodile stick its tongue out? — and I end up an hour or so later with the revelation that “‘Go’ is the shortest sentence in the English language.”

So it was a few days ago, when I stumbled across this headline: “Rep. Taylor confuses Cialis, Ambien at town hall meeting.” Which reminded me to pick up a prescription on the way home. Not really. It reminded me I had been wanting to look back at earlier town halls on the Coast to see if today’s version is as toxic as some congress members claim.

I came across this headline from 2009: “Health care debate heads to town halls.” You know, just like this year. Except that year, they were “discussing” the ACA, not the AHCA. See the difference?

“I want to know what price tag does Gene Taylor sell out for?” asked a man at a town hall meeting, CBS News reported in August of that year.

“They’re Marxists, they’re socialists and you will not abandon that party,” said another man.

I’d say that qualifies as toxic.

Now consider the town hall that Rep. Steven Palazzo turned down.

“Eliminate the EPA?” asked Elizabeth Jones of Ocean Springs. “No, eliminate Palazzo.”

That was as bad as it got.

Then Palazzo had one of his tele-town halls, where people phone in questions.

Here’s one of the tougher exchanges:

“There’s polls that say 55 percent of people want to keep ACA. How are you going to help people with pre-existing conditions? Are you going to wait for the CBO to come out with the cost? It sounded like it just wasn’t very well thought out.”

Guess which part of that string of questions went unanswered. You are correct. House Republicans didn’t wait for the CBO to score the bill before they passed it.

But that’s nothing like the crowds that turned out in 2009 for Taylor. And Taylor was lambasted even though he was opposed to, and voted against, the bill that came to be known as Obamacare.

And those who did?

Rules Committee Chairman Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., an outspoken and powerful supporter, had a brick thrown through the window of her Niagara Falls, New York, office and a message left on her answering machine mentioning snipers, reported McClatchy Newspapers’ David Lightman and William Douglas.

In case you’ve forgotten the driving force behind that wave of anger, it was the Tea Party.

“Health care is just the tip of the spear,” said Mark Skoda of the Memphis Tea Party, according to a story Margaret Talev wrote for McClatchy headlined “Health care protesters say the Tea Party has only just begun.” Skoda had helped organize a “Take the Town Halls to Washington” effort, in which activists tried to kill the overhaul or at least delay the voting.

So, marching on Washington hasn’t always been an affront to democracy.

But what about the Tea Party today? It’s been relatively quiet since revelations a few years ago that the national Tea Party Express was better at raising money and cruising around the country on bus tours than electing candidates.

On the Coast, the South Mississippi chapter dissolved.

The last email I have from the Express, from earlier this month, promised it would fight for the AHCA.

In 2009, though, Republican after Republican rode that wave of Tea Party town hall discontent to Washington. Among them was Steven Palazzo.

Yes, town halls used to be a patriotic way to run a congressman out of town.

Today, according to Palazzo, “(Town hall organizers have) joined together after losing the presidential election to demand ‘town halls’ from Republican members so they can ridicule them and pack rooms full of activists waving signs and yelling.”

Ashley Kittrell, one of the women who organized that original town hall, isn’t showing any signs of giving up. She’s raising money to put Palazzo’s smiling face on a billboard at a busy intersection on the Coast.

“According to Congressman Palazzo, holding Town Hall meetings are not part of his ‘business model,’” she writes on her GoFundMe.com page. “We want a Town Hall. It’s time for Congressman Palazzo to come out and talk to his constituents.”

By Friday afternoon, she’d raised $360 in donations ranging from $5 to $100.

And, no. A crocodile can’t stick its tongue out.

Paul Hampton: 228-284-7296, @JPaulHampton