What’s the Point of These Health Care Town Halls?


Michael Crowley liked Senator Claire McCaskill’s performance at a town hall earlier today:

Any Democrats headed with trepidation into town hall meetings this month should get themselves video of the session Missouri Democrat Claire McCaskill has been conducting, and which MSNBC carried for several minutes this afternoon. She was pitch-perfect: polite and responsive without being a pushover, armed with clear and compelling facts (emphasis on things any health reform bill will *not* do) and firm when necessary. She shamed one of the loudest hecklers by reminding him that “we have good manners in Missouri,” but without losing her own temper. I know the mid-day MSNBC audience is small, but I feel like almost any open-minded person who saw this performance would come away trusting McCaskill over the protesters.

I agree, but watching McCaskill on TV what I mostly thought of was that I don’t understand why members of congress are holding these town halls. There’s been so much focus on the spectacle of the whole thing that nobody’s really stepped back and explained what the purpose of these events are other than to give us pundits something to chat about. Obviously this is not a good way of acquiring statistically valid information about your constituents’ opinions. And it doesn’t seem like a mode of endeavor likely to increase the popularity of the politician holding the town hall. The upside is extremely limited, and you’re mostly just exposing yourself to the chance that something could go wrong.