Paul Krugman’s column in today’s New York Times brought back a memory I had long suppressed.
Thirty years or so ago I attended what was supposed to be a conference on volunteering held at Queens College in New York. It was open to the public and attracted about 200 people, which was pretty good for a Saturday morning.
I say “supposed to be” about volunteerism because the substance never really was discussed. Instead, the conference was disrupted as soon as it started by a group in the audience who clearly didn’t care about the subject. They repeatedly interrupted every speaker – including the one welcoming everyone to Queens College – by shouting things that had nothing to do with the topic. They were offered the chance to speak. They refused. Instead, they shouted down each speaker and denied the topic even deserved to be discussed.
Several weeks later I attended another conference at a different location on a completely separate topic…and the same people showed up and did the same thing. I don’t mean the same group; I mean the exact same people. Although they changed the subject to match the conference topic, they shouted the same slogans.
As was the case weeks earlier, this conference ended up being about just one thing: them.
The goal in both cases clearly was to disrupt rather than to engage. Nothing mattered to this group other than to draw attention to itself. Even when what was discussed would have helped the people they said they represented, they kept disrupting, and disrupting, and disrupting.
All of this came back to me when I read this quote from Krugman’s op-ed, which in part talks about the tactics the opposition to the Obama health care reform efforts is using:
This opposition cannot be appeased…But the truth is that the attacks on the president have no relationship to anything he is actually doing or proposing.
As was the case 30 years ago, the substance of the health care debate has nothing to do what the disruptions in the townhall meetings are all about. The same thing would happen if they were about every other subject imaginable.
The fact that this is happening on the 40 anniversary of Woodstock is overwhelmingly ironic. The political demographic that criticized the Woodstock generation for analogous tactics is now the one using it.