Senator Arlen Specter, (D-Penn.) faced an overwhelmingly hostile crowd on Tuesday, with attendees at a town hall forum challenging him with a host of deeply cynical and occasionally erroneous allegations about the president's health care agenda.
One man threatened the senator with God's wrath. "One day, God's gonna stand before you," he said. "And he's gonna judge you and the rest of your damn cronies up on the Hill, and then you can get your just deserts."
At one point, the event grew so testy that police and security guards took to the aisles to separate crowd members from each other, and a protester from the senator.
"Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Wait a minute," Specter told police as they circled around one angry town hall participant. "He has a right to leave. Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Wait a minute. You wanna leave? Leave!"
Otherwise, Specter stayed composed through it all, often offering terse answers to the various complaints that were leveled in his direction. He pledged not to support a health care bill that increased the deficit or one that covered illegal immigrants. He shot down assertions that the House of Representative's legislation would fund euthanasia and thanked the questioners who actually said they supported comprehensive reform.
Those participants, however, were far and away the minority. The event was held in Lebanon, Pennsylvania, a reliable GOP stronghold in the state. At one point, an attendee thanked Specter for having the courage to address the people who got him elected: "Republicans." It was a thinly veiled shot at the Senator's defection from the GOP earlier in the year.
The entire episode, carried live by all three major cable news stations, offered a window into the type of conservative histrionics currently being exhibited at these town hall forums. It also, at least in one instance, exposed how unconstructive some of these opponents of reform truly are. After one participant detailed his concerns with the legislation, Specter asked the gentleman what he would like to see done.
"Some of the things I would like to be done, okay, are..." the man paused, searching for an answer.
"Tort reform!" the crowd screamed.
"Tort reform, yes," the man responded. "Thank you very much, I lost the chain of thought."
And then he was off. "Some of the things in our current bill that I don't particularly like, and you have addressed already, one of them was non-U.S. citizens health care. You have indicated that you would not vote for a bill that has non U.S. health provisions within it. I do recommend though that we do what the state of New York does for the homeless. We can take the non-U.S. citizens and give them an airplane ticket and ship them back."
The man ended his speech by telling Specter that one of the positive things he could to, "which would make it extremely memorable for yourself, is you could go back and propose a bill for term limits."