“My family’s seen it up close too much with assassinations and violence in political life. It’s a terrible thing when people think that in order to get their point across they have to go to the edge of violent rhetoric and attack people personally,” Kennedy told the nurses, union officials and AARP members finishing their breakfasts at the invitation-only event in the Providence Marriott hotel. “It’s fine for people to debate the issue and attack the issue, but when they go and stoop to the level of the vitriolic rhetoric that we’ve seen this debate turn up, it’s very, I think, dangerous to the fabric of our country.”But that was not the real story. This was a "townhall" event sponsored by two labor unions and AARP. The event was not open to the general public and only supporters of Democratic health care reform were allowed in. AARP, which hosted the event, screened questions from the pre-screened crowd:
In a subsequent interview, Kennedy went further in warning that angry opposition could create physical danger for elected leaders.
The role of AARP in supporting Democratic party proposals has received some attention, but not nearly enough. AARP presents itself as a neutral organization interested in the welfare of seniors, but in fact, AARP has extensive financial interests in promoting its affiliate insurance plans.
Saturday’s event, hosted by the AARP, was open to the media, but attendance was limited to a select group that largely supports a health-care overhaul.
In contrast to some public meetings hosted by the Rhode Island delegation in recent weeks, the audience was completely passive. There was no sign waving, shouting or heckling.
“I think they are democracy in action,” AARP senior state director Kathleen Connell said of the rowdy public forums. “But I don’t think that some of them produced good information. I wanted a different experience.” ...
Kennedy spoke generally about health-care legislation for 25 minutes before fielding six questions that were screened and asked by the moderator, Connell....
There was little discussion of the more controversial elements that have surfaced at recent public forums, such as the cost and impact on illegal immigrants.
“This was not really the sort of thing the other politicians have done. This was an ultra-controlled environment,” said Justin Katz, of the conservative blog Anchor Rising, who was allowed to videotape the event from the back of the room.
If the Kennedy event is any measure, AARP is a shill. It acts as if it is interested in an open debate, but in fact carefully controlled the Rhode Island event so that Patrick Kennedy could mouth his hyperbole about opposition violence without having to answer any hard questions.
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