Republican Representative Bob Dold of Kenilworth faced an angry crowd at his town hall meeting in Wheeling. It was not clear whether the people who were angry were mostly Democrats or Republicans or even affiliated with a party. Dold's office, as usual, had not announced that the meeting would take place until the day before, so most of those in attendance probably were there because one group or another had notified them.
Some people said they were angry that Republicans in Congress have been standing in the way of efforts to get needed legislation passed, for purely political reasons. When Dold tried to escape blame, a man in the audience countered that Dold had run as a Republican and continued to affiliate with that party without criticizing his party's leadership.
Many people said they were angry about the economy. Dold spent a lot of time talking about imports and exports, taxes, and the national debt. He tried very hard to sound reasonable and moderate, but a lot of the people in the room showed they had been paying close attention to his record and pointed out that he was a lot more one-sided than he wanted them to think.
One revealing exchange came when a man criticized Dold for siding with one of the most extreme right-wing groups, the Americans for Tax Reform, which is headed by Grover Norquist. Dold squirmed as he admitted that he had taken Norquist's pledge to never raise any taxes, no matter how desperately the government would need the money. Norquist had used that pledge to pressure Republicans to refuse to support fiscal reform legislation, with the result that the country was recently brought to the brink of a government shut-down, for what most people in America saw as purely political purposes. Dold told the audience that although he had signed the pledge, he supported removing some tax subsidies, which some people consider to be raising taxes.
Several people, upon hearing Dold's attempt to defuse his critics and yet not disavow the pledge, asked him why he had signed it in the first place. Dold explained, rather sheepishly, “I signed the pledge back when I was running for office.”
And there you have it. Dold so desperately wanted to get elected that he signed a pledge that was specifically designed to lock him into a position on every single fiscal vote he took while in office, regardless of whether that position would turn out to be in the best interest of the country. He allowed the notorious Norquist to own his vote on all tax matters, so that he could get Norquist's money and support in his election bid.
Plenty of commentators decry the incivility of public discourse. I have been among them. But today, it wasn't until near the end of the meeting, when people's frustrations with Dold's attempts to avoid frankly answering their questions boiled up, that they started shouting questions at him. And that was when Dold, struggling to regain control of his audience, let a little bit of the truth slip out. Congratulations to the angry people.