Monday, August 24, 2009

Should town halls go virtual?

The past several weeks of the healthcare debate have been marked by increasingly chaotic public forums. Town halls became popular over the last few decades as a convenient and personal way for democratically elected representatives to connect with and answer to their constituents. However, as the growing controversy over healthcare reform has come to a head, disruptive conflict has overwhelmed what had previously functioned as a friendly if challenging atmosphere.

Groups of health care reform-opposers have overtaken town hall proceedings, asking incendiary questions of defensive lawmakers and in some instances turning the forums into unmanageable mobs. Some representatives have voiced suspicion that those attending their town halls are even constituents, pointing out that conservative groups have turned to "astroturfing," or organizing phony grass-roots groups to help shut down constructive debate.

"Town brawls," as the media has begun referring to them, may not be the ideal situation in which to get real feedback from constituents, and some representatives have turned to telephone conference calls, which allow for citizens to call in questions to their local lawmakers. Last week, CitizenTube asked citizens to submit questions for Congressman Bob Latta (R-OH), and other representatives like Steve Israel (D-NY) have also turned to online question and answer sessions to connect with Americans on the healthcare issue. Check out their videos, and see if your representatives have done the same!

While online forums such as these do lose the intimacy of a public appearance and allow for advanced preparation, the recent conduct at town hall meetings has made it difficult for lawmakers to have an informed, honest discussion with their constituents. What do you think? Are town halls better off on the web?