August 24, 2009

Edward Fitzpatrick Versus Scott MacKay, Dueling Critics of Art and Democracy

Carroll Andrew Morse

Projo political columnist Edward Fitzpatrick and WRNI (1290AM) political analyst Scott MacKay have come to very different conclusions about what they witnessed at Congressman James Langevin's town hall meeting in Warwick last week.

MacKay quite clearly didn't like what he saw…

The iconic image of a New England Town Meeting was painted by Norman Rockwell in his World-War II-era Freedom of Speech illustration. The 1943 painting, inspired by a Vermont town meeting, shows a plainly-clothed working man speaking up while his white collar neighbors look on....Now, roll the clock ahead 66 years to last week's two raucous Rhode Island gatherings on national health care.

Boorishness and shouting have replaced respect and civility. The meetings with members of the state's Washington delegation were magnets for a grab-bag of unfocused rage, much of it aimed at issues far afield from health-care. There were folks protesting abortion, illegal immigration, the banking and auto company bailouts, socialism, President Obama and even the end of the gold standard.

The sight of zealots last Wednesday at Warwick City Hall screaming at Congressman Jim Langevin, a wheelchair-bound quadriplegic, wasn't pretty. And it wasn't civil or respectful.

…but Fitzpatrick came away with a very different impression (albeit with a reference to the same painting!)…
Inspired by a 1941 speech by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, artist Norman Rockwell created a series of paintings called the Four Freedoms. Perhaps the most famous is Freedom of Speech, which pictures a sincere, determined everyman standing to speak at a New England town hall meeting....

Certainly, we did not get that idealized version of a town hall meeting on Wednesday night when 430 people packed Warwick City Hall (and hundreds more gathered outside) to tell Democratic U.S. Rep. James R. Langevin what they think of the proposed health-care overhaul.

The meeting amounted to an amazing mix of bad behavior and good points, absurdity and poignancy, interruptions and interactions. People were nutty and nuanced, cloying and annoying, frightful and insightful. It was ugly at times, but a beautiful thing to behold. It was a First Amendment festival, a carnival of democracy, complete with a few freaks and sideshows. In short, it was more Salvador Dali than Norman Rockwell.

Having been inside at Congressman Langevin's event, I have to say that I am more partial to Fitzpatrick's description. And I can't help but be reminded of a quote I once heard from author Charles Rappleye, regarding a description offered of Rhode Island in its early days, not in a positive sense: It's a "downright democracy" around here!

But of course, we've got complete video of Congressman Langevin's event here at Anchor Rising, to help you decide for yourself…

Comments, although monitored, are not necessarily representative of the views Anchor Rising's contributors or approved by them. We reserve the right to delete or modify comments for any reason.

"The sight of zealots last Wednesday at Warwick City Hall screaming at Congressman Jim Langevin, a wheelchair-bound quadriplegic, wasn't pretty. And it wasn't civil or respectful."

Zealots accord to whose standard?

Are we supposed to treat Rep. Langevin differently because he's confined to a wheelchair? By the way, I believe the congressman is a paraplegic.

Posted by: Will at August 24, 2009 4:46 PM

Interesting report on the town hall. I'm curious, though, is this mainly a partisan thing, or are people actually standing up to the government? I understand that TARP, the bank bailouts and the auto bailouts were also topics of discussion -- are your folks making a link between all of these, or do most people give Bush a pass on the bailouts? (These aren't meant as hostile questions -- I'm against Obamacare and the bailouts, too, but I'm trying to get a sense of what others are thinking on these issues.)


Posted by: clawback at August 24, 2009 10:30 PM

People are mad at everybody. As angry as they are at Obama, they're not getting an answer from the other side, either.
For the GOP to take advantage of the situation, the party really needs to separate itself from the Hitlerites and birthers. Unfortunately, with rare exceptions, it doesn't feel any particular urgency to do so just yet.

Posted by: rhody at August 25, 2009 1:19 AM

That's my sense of it, too, rhody. Thanks for the insight. I wasn't involved with any of the tea parties, but I understand that the one in Bowling Green, KY would not invite pols from either party if they supported the bailouts or the "stimulus," and the one in Burlington, VT refused to allow the UVM Colleg Republicans take direct part because they are clearly partisan (which is their right, of course). Any chance that the GOP can transform itself in light of all this? I wonder. Most of the established Republicans have been in on the runaway spending since Bush was in office. Maybe it's time for new blood.

Posted by: clawback at August 25, 2009 1:30 PM
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