For a few minutes yesterday evening, the audience in the spacious auditorium of Brookhaven’s Sachem East High School followed the suggestions of George Washington. As the crowd filed in to attend the sole health-care town hall in Long Island, sponsored by progressive Democrat Tim Bishop, Washington’s “Rules of Civility” were projected across a screen. “When another speaks be attentive yourself and disturb not the audience,” read one slide. Once people took their seats, however, Washington was quickly forgotten. “Hands off health care!” shouted mostly white anti-reform activists, only to be drowned out by the chants of “Yes we can!” shouted by a group consisting primarily of union members and supporters.
Once the initial shouting died down, the town supervisor began the evening by referencing the death of Ted Kennedy and asking for a moment of silence. “We don’t give a shit about Kennedy!” one man yelled, setting the tone for the two hours that would follow. If anything, protesters seemed determined to faithfully follow the larger script playing out across the country. Nazi references? Check. Scuffle on the floor that nearly erupted into a brawl? You betcha. One of the most dramatic moments came when a rosy-cheeked boy, who looked to be about 11, took the mike. “My 72-year-old grandmother recently had opened-heart [sic] surgery,” he said. “Will the government pull the plug on my grandma?”
The debate seemed to be as much about people’s addresses as their views on health care; any pro-reform speaker was accused of living outside the district. One woman, blabbering incoherently about the Constitution not declaring what kind of health care she will have, screamed into the microphone: “Where are my freedoms? Where are my choices? This is like Nazi Germany!” Bishop tried his best to answer every question no matter how absurd or repetitive. One of his best lines of the night, which actually gave some of the protesters pause, was: “Think about it, you’re protecting a system that is bankrupting small businesses and families!”