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ROBB AUSTIN'S TURN

"I’m Mad as Hell, and I’m not Going to take this Anymore!"

August 17, 2009

In the 1976 film Network, news anchor, Howard Beale, (Peter Finch) who works for the fictional television network, Union Broadcasting System (UBS), sears into the national consciousness a simple one-line phrase, "I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going toke this anymore!"

The storyline is that Beale is about to be fired for low ratings but instead of quietly saying goodbye to his audience, he takes to the airways in series of rants in an effort to expose the hypocrisy of broadcast news executives.

We are being reminded of Beale’s anger and verbal tirade during the current congressional summer recess as Members of Congress hold town meetings in their districts where the primary topic is President Barrack Obama’s proposed changes to the nation’s health care system.

These meetings have produced an endless array of network, cable, and print news coverage as reporters, politicians, and pundits debate whether the people attending these meetings are well-meaning citizens - or special interest "plants," attempting to thwart President Obama’s proposed initiatives.

During the evening news we get continuous reports of the passion and the anger of citizens attending the neighborhood meetings. Members of Congress seem to be overwhelmed by constituents who do not want the President’s plan implemented because of concerns that it may mean too much government intrusion into their health care lives.

As background, congressional town meetings have been a staple for Members of Congress for the past 40 years. They started innocently in the early 1970s when Members thought holding the local meetings during the August recess would be a good way to keep their name identification high among voters in their district - and they were also anxious to promulgate the idea that Congress listens to the people.

The primary benefit of the town meetings - as Congress first saw it - was to the individual Members by using the Congressional Frank (see Robb Austin’s Turn Archive "Let’s Be Frank. Congress Likes Being Re-elected", May 18, 2009) to promote themselves - not issues.

For years Washington congressional staff offices systematically sent out town meeting notices to hundreds of thousands of voting constituents to announce the time and place of the meetings - all the while knowing the larger benefit wasn’t whether people attended - but in spreading the word that they were being held.

The primary objective was - and still is - to use the congressional frank in such a way as to convince voters that their local Congressman is a person who listens to the people back home. The meetings are usually long and boring with the Congressman answering everyone’s questions on an array of topics - from local sewer grants to citizen complaints about the price of gasoline.

All of that changed this year when President Obama’s health care proposal took center stage and Members of Congress were forced to focus their August meetings on the politically charged health care debate.

Soon a perfect storm developed - voters flocked to attend these town meetings to voice their opposition and a willing news media was eager to record their anger and opposition nightly. Since August is traditionally a slow news month, cable news and political reporters were only too grateful to have the controversy to report on.

Meanwhile, Congressional Democrats were taken by surprise and made a major mistake in attacking the town meeting attendees - some calling them an "angry mob" and accusing them of acting like German members of Adolf Hitler’s political party, the Nazis.

This was an incredible mistake and a politically stupid thing for the Democrats to do as these characterizations are now etched into the minds of all voters - and they will undoubtedly be replayed during the 2010 congressional elections.

Truth is - there is a breaking point for everyone - as we saw from the fictitious news anchor Howard Beale in the movie Network - who took matters into his own hands to expose the hypocrisy of the elite and arrogant television network executives who wanted him fired for his low viewer ratings.

It now appears that the American people have a breaking point - especially about their health care - and they are letting the politicians know , that they, too, are "mad as hell, and aren’t going to take it anymore!"