Just got off the phone a few minutes ago with U.S. Rep. David Scott of metro Atlanta, who underlined what he said are some worrisome racial undertones in the current health care debate.
Scott angrily accused protestors of attempting to “hijack” the meeting.
On Monday, the congressman said he stood by those comments, which were recorded by the city’s cable TV outlet — then truncated into the WXIA report.
The edited video hit the airwaves only this weekend, but in fact was one of the first of many such clashes over health care reported around the country.
U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Decatur) will host a town hall meeting on health care this evening. His staff says 20 law enforcement officers will be on hand to maintain order.
What the WXIA report failed to capture, the 13th District congressman said, was the fact that the health care protestors intruded on a delicate, local discussion.
“That was not my town hall meeting. It was the city of Douglasville. They had worked months to put a town hall meeting together, for me to come and to explain and to give comfort and assurance [to] the community that would be impacted,” Scott said.
The topic was the $70 million reconstruction of Ga. 92 in the community. Sixty-eight homes and businesses will be destroyed in the process.
“It would go right through the heart of the African-American community,” Scott said. “These people don’t know — they’re willing to try to trust here, but they want some comfort. They want to know how their homes will be appraised. How will the neighborhood be impacted? The whole future of Douglasville rests on this road. That’s what that meeting was about. It was not about health care.”
Scott said it was the fact that the meeting wasn’t his, and dealt with a sensitive topic, that made him use the sharp tone.
“I was going to stand up and get the respect of the constituents of mine that had worked hard to put a meeting together. And I was not going to let [health care protestors] hijack this meeting. We were discussing the life-and-death issues of their future and their homes and their way of life,” Scott said. “It was very disrespectful and selfish. I had to speak up for the respect of the people of Douglasville.”
Scott said he’ll be the sponsor of a health fair in Jonesboro on Saturday. “I’m willing to take questions. But that’s mine. This meeting was not mine,” Scott said.
City Manager William Osborne, who moderated the Douglasville event, confirmed that health care protestors had to be called to order “four or five times” during a meeting that lasted nearly four hours.
The city manager said the demonstrators weren’t a surprise — Herman Cain, the WSB Radio talk show host and former Republican candidate for senator, had urged those opposed to current health care proposals to show up.
But Osborne also disputed descriptions of Scott as “ranting.”
“He was angry and he showed that anger. But he was totally under control,” Osborne said.
Scott said he understands why he was the target of confrontation. As the only member of Congress who is a member of the Blue Dog and New Democrat caucuses, plus the Congressional Black Caucus, Scott says he has begun to fill the role of go-between on the health care issue.
“I think members of Congress have to stand firm, and they have to be able to realize that we’re in a fight — that this is a serious issue, it is a deliberative issue. But we’re being hanged in effigy,” he said.
Scott said he has no problem with protestors exercising their freedom of speech.
“This is a different thing here. We’re dealing a concerted effort to use these town hall meetings to bum rush Democratic congressmen about this issue,” Scott said.
While Scott acknowledged the legitimate concerns that many Americans have when it comes to overhauling health care, the congressman also expressed worry about the debate’s undertone. Scott e-mailed me a sampling of some of the rougher health care mail he’s received — the ones with variations of the n-word.
“You were, you are, and you shall forever be but a ———-,” one fax to his office reads. The missive includes a mug of President Barack Obama with a hammer-and-sickle stamped on his forehead.
“The folks are not going to stand for socialized medicine even though most Negroes refuse to stand on their own two feet,” says another.
“These people are bringing [in] race — and ‘Negro’ and ‘colored’ and Obama,” Scott said. “We should applaud the fact that we have an African-American president and he is working on this. This is a great thing. But it should not be a racial situation. What have we done except look at the problem and move on it?”
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