The following editorial appeared in the St. Cloud Times on Aug. 3. It is reprinted with permission.
Amid all the serious discussions about health care, Cash for Clunkers and that suds-aided White House summit last week, Central Minnesotans got at least one chance to chuckle thanks to 7th District Rep. Collin Peterson.
In the Beltway-based Politico, a report about the so-called “birthers movement” quoted the moderate Democrat as saying he doesn’t hold town meetings because “25 percent of my people believe the Pentagon and (then-Defense Secretary) Rumsfeld were responsible for taking the Twin Towers down” on Sept. 11, 2001.
True cynics and wannabe comedians might respond with “really, only 25 percent?” Most Central and western Minnesota voters, though, get his point — people wedded to extremist views can ruin much more than a politician’s public forum.
In fact, that was the context of the Politico report. It addressed how for Republican lawmakers “there’s no easy way to deal with the small but vocal crowd of right-wing activists who refuse to believe that President Barack Obama was born in the United States.”
Also worth noting is the report was spawned in part by a “birther” questioning GOP Rep. Mike Castle of Delaware about the issue at a town meeting. Having seen credible evidence to the contrary, Castle did not accept her view and said so. The town meeting quickly deteriorated as more “birthers” booed and, well, the result is available on YouTube. (Pushing 800,000 views last count.)
As Politico pointed out, with Congress headed toward summer recess, Republican lawmakers and their strategists are busily scripting and memorizing more politically appropriate responses. Peterson, a conservative Democrat and 10-term House member who has won easily every election, took a more direct approach.
Still, if he offended you, please note that he did soften his words the next day, stating there “are people in the 7th District who freely identify themselves as outside the mainstream — on the left and on the right — who try to hijack public forums like town hall meetings.”
Really, though, the worst out of all this is the state Republican Party’s attempt to turn his comment into a campaign issue. It plans to run advertisements about it across the district this week.
“Really, Collin, 25 percent of your constituents are so out of touch they believe the U.S. government caused 9/11?” the commercial says. “So you won’t hold town meetings? They’re not out of touch. You are.”
Then what about Peterson’s neighbor, the GOP’s own 6th District Rep. Michele Bachmann?
Except for one tightly controlled forum at which she barely spoke, we don’t recall any town meetings she’s held in this area since elected. But, hey, you can call and take part in her tele-town meeting. (Then again, that probably makes it easier to screen those extremist calls.)