The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release
Contact: Sam Husseini, (202) 347-0020; or David Zupan, (541) 484-9167

Right-Wing Populism and Health Care Town Halls



Berlet is
senior analyst of Political Research Associates and co-author of
"Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort." He said today:
"The town meeting confrontations over health care are an example of
right-wing populist protests that periodically sweep across the United
States. The anger, fear and resentment are often mobilized by cynical
political elites as part of an orchestrated response. This does not
mean, however, that the persons currently disrupting the town meetings
have no right to participate in the public square.

"Calling these protestors 'extremists' or 'wingnuts'; suggesting they
are mere puppets of elite rightist spinmasters; or demanding they be
silenced, undercuts the basic concepts of the democratic process. At
the same time, being aware of how historic right-wing populism has
played out in ways that promote scapegoating of immigrants, people of
color, and Jews is vital to protect the democratic process. This is a
difficult balancing act, but a necessary skill set for those who want
to defend and extend democracy as a system built on informed consent.

"What to do? In the short run, people scheduling public meetings need
to set the ground rules for participation up front, and enforce them
with courtesy and without political bias.

"In the long run, the Obama administration and the Democratic Party
need to learn how to rebut false and misleading statements and beliefs
without name-calling; calmly rebuke those spreading the misinformation
as harming civil society; and develop strong and clear arguments to
defend their proposed programs.

"These are the Three R's of Civil Society: Rebut, Rebuke, Re-Affirm.
The tendencies found within right-wing populism are toxic to democracy,
but the solution is not to short-circuit the democratic process, but to
ensure that questions are fully answered and all voices are heard."

Available for a limited number of interviews, Hightower is a syndicated columnist, populist activist and author of the book Swim against the Current: Even a Dead Fish Can Go With the Flow.

A nationwide consortium, the Institute for Public Accuracy (IPA) represents an unprecedented effort to bring other voices to the mass-media table often dominated by a few major think tanks. IPA works to broaden public discourse in mainstream media, while building communication with alternative media outlets and grassroots activists.