Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Infiltrating a Tea Party Townhall: Joe Walsh Dec. 3, 2011 Colonial Café, St. Charles – East, Illinois

Guest Post by KAO and IML


FILE - In this Aug. 4, 2011 file photo, Illinois Congressman Joe Walsh speaks to his northern Illinois constituents at a town hall meeting in Wauconda, Ill. On Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2011, Walsh announced in an email to supporters that he is running in the newly drawn 14th congressional district in suburban areas north and west of Chicago. That will force a primary battle with fellow conservative Republican Randy Hultgren if Illinois' new congressional map survives a court challenge. MANDATORY CREDIT Photo: Daily Herald, Gilbert R. Boucher II / AP

KAO: I arrived about 20 minutes before the meeting began. The room was set-up for coffee service, but no one had yet been seated. I sat at a table in the main dining area of the restaurant near the front door and ordered coffee. As it arrived, so did some early attendees. More and more arrived, and were being greeted by Walsh’s staff and led into the room. I was feeling anxious, as there was lots of “chatter” about Obama (negative), taxes and government (too high, too big) and such as people entered the restaurant. Each and every person that walked by seemed to be a Tea Party member. Egad. What in the name of Po’Gates have I gotten myself into!

About 5 minutes later I headed into the room; a gentleman was setting-up a video camera on a tripod in the back corner. All the blinds were closed; the seating was set-up for about 60 people. Immediately after I seated myself, a Walsh staffer went over to pull tables away from the back wall further into the room. They mentioned they were making room for people to stand. I noticed immediately that made the main entryway to the room very narrow, and therefore inaccessible to someone in a wheelchair (as the parent of a disabled adult, I notice these sorts of things). I glanced at the pamphlet on the table. And I listened. The chatter was unmistakably pro-GOP / anti-government. We were going to be badly out-numbered… I did tremble a bit. What if IML didn’t show? What if I couldn’t keep a clear head and a civil tongue?

I began playing with my cell phone. Sadly, I had dropped it face-down at home trying to get out the door. Now, it was “on the fritz.” I continued playing with it, trying to take pictures, use the video on it – and caught the attention of the staffer when he saw me pointing it at him. He was very tall, very thin, and didn’t look old enough to shave. He came over to me and started asking me questions: where did I live, on the east side or the west side of the river (the 14th District was on the west side of the river)? How far did I drive today? Did I sign in yet – no, I had not, so he brought a clipboard with a sign-in sheet from across the room for me to fill-out. He asked me a few more questions. My mind was furiously racing – why ME? Why was this guy singling me out for all this @#$%^& attention? Did I look like I did not belong? I gave my alter-ego’s name and address (purloined while en route to the event) and breathed a sigh of relief – only to be asked to sign a petition to put Joe Walsh on the ballot for the 14th District just a few minutes later. No one else was drawing this kind of one-on-one attention... why me?

Then, an ah-HAH moment for me: Walsh said he may run in his own 8th District: since he was collecting signatures to get on the 14th District ballot, he may not have enough signatures to RUN in the 14th District! OK… so many meetings… so little time. That explains it.

An older gentleman asked to be seated next to me; I indicated I was saving the seat for my friend. He then sat down in front of me – and proceeded to chat me up. He was a Tea Party member. He was unhappy with how things were going in this country; I agreed. Things have got to change he said; I agreed. WHAT exactly we were each discussing and from what respective position wasn’t clear. He spoke in generalities, as I did. I kept the conversation neutral for that moment, as the meeting hadn’t started yet, and I didn’t want my head ripped-off before the REAL SHOW began.

IML: When I arrived, KAO was already seated at a table. She had saved me a seat and whispered the name she was using for the day. I signed a sheet with my fake name and address and took a deep breath. Ok, game on. KAO had scouted out the territory and informed me that we were badly outnumbered. The people at our table were making political small talk, and it wasn't our political point of view. Why was I not surprised? I felt like a spy!

There was coffee on the table and we were asked if we wanted pumpkin or apple pie. The town hall meeting was about to begin.

KAO: IML came in the door, and I motioned her to come over and sit next to me. The room was already full. IML and I hugged and made casual chit-chat. We spoke in low tones; this was a hostile crowd. I could feel the anger bubbling-up from some of the attendees. The hate in some was palpable. Oh, what in the name of Po’Gates were we DOING HERE?

Suddenly, He Arrived. Mr. Walsh himself. He is a good-looking man, a bit shorter than me, and every inch as bombastic and boisterous as he is on video. He’s very social and gregarious. Before he began speaking we stood and recited The Pledge of Allegiance. He then asked for the veterans in the room to stand to be acknowledged. Then he began speaking, insinuating that he was well-aware of his perceived public persona and referred humorously to previously less-than-flattering videos. He didn’t go to Washington to be “liked. He’s there to shake-up the party and to ‘respectfully stop’ Obama” said to rousing cheers and applause from the crowd… Yikes. He has the courage of his convictions and speaks his mind; the crowd, for the most part, laps it up. Why are we here? Oh, yeah – boots on the ground.

He is extremely likable (other than his politics). He talked about how Washington is full of insiders, how there should be term limits (“the longer they stay there, the less they listen to us” he said), and how things are run versus how they SHOULD be run. He doesn’t want to have Nancy Pelosi (cue audible hisses, catcalls and clapping from the largely Tea Party crowd upon hearing her name spoken… ) to regain control of the House if Democrats get the majority next fall, so he MAY want to run where he lives – which is in the 8th District. He doesn’t want to run against Randy Hultgren, the present Republican representative in this area. He blames Illinois State Democrats for the “outrageous” Congressional boundary map change he is now faced with (no, Joe – the census is what necessitated the re-districting! The population has grown in the areas outside of Chicago).

He is absolutely against regulation for businesses and corporations. He is against Campaign Finance Reform and favors Tax Reform – a Flat Tax. He spoke of all types of things Tea Party friendly, supports oil drilling “right outside this window” – pointing to the back of the room – “right here, right now - tomorrow” and how he slept in his office and flew home each week to spend time in his Home District (which one? He didn’t specify…). He wants “Obamacare” repealed (more audible hissing and clapping…). He blamed both Republicans and Democrats for the out-of-control spending in Washington, DC (I have to agree). He also said “Obama is destroying what makes this country great” – to cheers from the crowd. I sigh, and look at IML: Oh, dear – what in the name of Po’Gates…

IML: I took pictures, but very few were in focus. The man moves around A LOT. Walsh is animated, passionate, and worked the crowd. He's good. I must admit, if it weren't for everything he stands for, he would be quite likeable. He probably wondered who I was, taking all those pictures.

KAO: Yes, and you’re sitting next to me – the person that was being eyeballed from the moment I walked into the room!

So, the Q and A begins. The usual questions arise; Joe Walsh respectfully replies. He is very, very big on everyone being respectful of each other today; I guess Randy Hultgren’s call for “civility” has reached Joe’s campaign after all. A man and a woman nearby speak with clearly left-leaning POV’s. IML and I are happy we’re not the only ones in the room. Each time they speak up or ask a question, Walsh needs to remind the crowd about being RESPECTFUL. For the most part, things are kept civil. Another person in the crowd asks about when members of Congress go to Washington and come back much wealthier than when they left. “Because that’s what Denny Hastert did – he left as a teacher, and came back as a millionaire.” Joe said he opposed Congressional information being used for Insider Trading. But when “that Liberal couple” ask Joe specifically “have you financially benefited from inside information while in Congress, Joe?” he skillfully redirected their comment. IML noted quietly out loud, “He didn’t say NO.” I repeated it back to her, but a bit louder – so the gentleman sitting in front of me could hear too: “He didn’t say no!” and he glanced at me and nodded his head and smiled.

IML: When I finally raised my hand to speak, he appeared eager to hear what I had to say. I prefaced my comment with, "I'm to the left of liberal..."

KAO: …and a collective groan rose from the crowd… eye-rolling… some hostile mumbling / catcalls... and… did I hear a few people CLAPPING??? Why, yes- yes I did!! More than just us and that LIB couple!

IML: Walsh asked everyone to be quiet, to be respectful. I continued, "I'm surprised that I don't dislike you as much as I thought I would." No pepper spray. He was listening. Basically, I stated that although I do not agree with most of his positions, it's obvious that he truly believes in everything he says. I stated that I truly believe in everything I say. I said I appreciated that he asked the crowd to listen to and respect opposing beliefs. He turned to the crowd and said something like, this is what town halls are all about, blah, blah, blah. I can't remember everything I said, but I felt good when I was finished.

KAO and I talked to Walsh after the crowd left. I admitted that I didn't live in his district, that my friend had invited me to attend. He was incredulous when I told him where I live and how far I had driven to attend his town hall. When he asked me why, I couldn't say that it was because I wanted to ask him hard, embarrassing questions. I couldn't say that I wanted to tell him how he is destroying our country and I am grateful that I don't have grandchildren to worry about. I couldn't say that I will do everything in my power to get the Tea Party politicians out of every office they hold and keep new candidates from being elected. I just couldn't. He was too gracious. I wasn't going to change his mind and he wasn't going to change mine. I just said that I had heard and read a lot about him and I was curious. We chatted a little while and that was that.

KAO: I watched as first one, then two TV crews interview Joe Walsh for a full 5 minutes. I try, in vain, to get my camera phone to work. FAIL. The interview ends, and I see IML approach Joe. I can’t get to her in time to hear the Q and A, so I walk-up just as they finish. Joe walks back into the room everyone had just come from, and I follow. I eventually engage him one-on-one in conversation in the middle of the room. I wanted to fill him in on what EXACTLY happened during the years before the mortgage / financial crisis. At the point I tell him that de-regulation allowed it to develop, I see the fire leave his eyes; a glazed look takes it’s place. He asks me “when did this legislation take place?” I say we noticed its affect in early 2003 (I was referring to Glass-Steagall’s repeal in 1999, but right then, I’m becoming aware the conversation is being taken off-course). He takes a step forward; I back up a step. The conversation continues. He closes in again. Oh, no you DON’T! This tactic is called “Intimidate Your Questioner, Lesson Plan 101”. OK, I’ll play. I hold my position – I’m also about an inch taller than Joe. About 10 seconds go by; I straighten my spine to raise my height and I step IN toward HIM. He holds his posture for about 10 seconds, then ends the conversation – “he’s gotta get going…”. Not a big deal – he hasn’t heard anything I’ve said since the first 15 seconds – when I mentioned de-regulation as the cause of the housing / financial crisis. I thank him for his time, and turn to leave with IML.

IML: On our way out, we engaged in a little banter with an “I have an MBA” gentleman. He spouted the Fox talking points until he slipped: he started talking about how he read that olive oil is not the quality it is portrayed to be. As he said that “something needs to be done about it,” KAO and I were on the same wavelength: “but you don’t want regulation!” There was some back and forth on various topics, each side politely conceding a little, enough to say that we actually agreed on a few points – not many, but enough to carry on a respectful conversation. When the topic turned to Sarah Palin, he started in about what a great governor she had been. KAO and I stopped him with, “You don’t want to go there. Please. You don’t stand a chance against us. It’s going to get ugly.” LOL – the look on his face! We stated a few facts and moved on to something else.

KAO: After we concluded our conversation with Mr. MBA, we decide to stay in the restaurant, taking a seat and ordering coffee, as there are some UPSET Tea Party members talking in the entryway. They apparently didn’t realize THEIR meeting was open to the public, including mere mortals and LIBERALS. We decide to wait them out. We see no need for our license plate numbers to be written down! I had a great time. Were it not for our politics, Joe would be a great guy to go get a beer with… but he still won’t get my vote next fall. Thank God I’m a Po’Gator!

IML: Amen!

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Thank you for this report from inside the belly of the beast KAO and IML. (I apologise for the formatting --- P will sort it out later on this evening.)

Just a little background:

Joe Walsh is the congressman who owes more than $100,000 in child support whilst attacking President Obama for his fiscal policies. He has also promised amongst other things that he will defund planned parenthood, repeal Obamacare and end funding for abortion within the health care law. He was recently given an award by a right wing christian lobbying group, Family Research Council, for "consistently defending faith, family and freedom". Go figure!

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UPDATE:

KAO found a video clip from Joe Walsh's townhall on youtube:


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