U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson scrambled Monday to defuse a comment that, on its face, insulted a quarter of his constituents in the Seventh Congressional District. Peterson had been quoted in an online story about conspiracy theorists, saying "25 percent of my people believe the Pentagon and Rumsfeld were responsible for taking the twin towers down. That's why I don't do town meetings.".... Within a few hours, the state's Republican Party pounced, calling Peterson's statement "outrageous and offensive."
The sad thing is that Peterson is right. Having grown up in Minnesota, I can vouch for the veracity of his "joke". That the reaction emanating from the Right has been so voluble and vituperative only serves to demonstrate this. The reality is that town meetings ARE more frequently hijacked by the loud and the ignorant these days. These folks exist on both sides of the political spectrum, of course. In a perfect world, town meetings would be forums where ideas are examined, considered, and dispassionately debated. In reality, far too often town meetings devolve into rantfests where people talk AT one another instead of discussing issues WITH one another. Screaming replaces discussion, and volume is substituted for consideration. In the end, nothing is accomplished because no one is listening.
Peterson's mistake was in assuming that people would recognize his bon mot as merely an off-handed attempt at humor. Not in a world where "gotcha" journalism lives for moment's like this. Peterson did insert his own foot in his own mouth, of course, and I'd like to think that he's smart enough to know better. The very people he was describing ARE devoid of anything resembling a sense of humor, never mind the ability to discuss issues at anything less than full volume. A savvy politician has got to be able to recognize that talking about people like that, even in jest, is a no-win situation. They'll be whirling in paroxysms of righteous indignation in no time flat, and you'll look like a complete dick.
Nice work, eh?