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Susan L. Travis Headshot

Billy the Kid and the Town Hall Meeting

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RUIDOSO, NEW MEXICO.  I
write from a small mountain town in Lincoln County, New Mexico where, not just for the sake of tourism, we revere America’s
most colorful good-natured juvenile delinquent, Billy the Kid.   Offering
a weak hero-energy to this dubious mascot, Sheriff Pat
Garrett
hardly provides a viable counter-balance, perhaps because the
circumstances of his shooting the unsuspecting Billy lie outside the honorable
sheriff mythos and the Code of the West. 
The Kid never had a chance, and besides, Garrett, a Republican, later
ran for office as a Democrat.  We’re just
not that into him.  I tend to think that
perhaps Pat Garrett’s legacy is the county’s current anti-government posture
and its glorification of Billy.  Indeed, our
reputation is such that Paul Harvey once noted wryly, “If you want to get away
with murder, go to Lincoln County, New
Mexico.” 

Despite this political backdrop, our town hall meeting was mercifully
spared the guns and swastikas of the six o’clock news.  I didn’t really expect such nonsense; our collective
persona derives from the proud ranching descendents of Old West pioneers and
Snowbird Texans.  As Republican
Americans, our citizens believe themselves to be dignified, well-informed patriots
faithfully absorbing the rhetoric of their ministers and Fox News.  They truly want the best for America . . . no
taxes and lots of guns.  Only a few
months ago, a rancher wielding a gun chased an investigating deputy from his
property, and that was the end of the matter. 
The Constitution begins and ends with the Second Amendment and to hell
with the rest of those pesky stinking “laws.” 
Among themselves they sneer at the
ACLU
, talk smack about the “fruits and
nuts” of California, call MLK Day “N*gger Day” and drawl, “Good RIDDANCE to Ted
Kennedy!”  These are my friends,
neighbors, and loved ones.  The rest of
us, my friend Joyce says, are “lone blueberries in a sea of tomato soup.”

So, there in the town hall meeting, the crowd cheered as a
sign reading “Uphold the Constitution” floated by, as if this was their exclusive motto. Well . . . uphold
the Second Amendment, but the SIXTH? For eight years I’ve listened to the same
people growling viciously, “F*ck’em, those sand-n*ggers don’t DESERVE due
process – just let ME put a bullet through their damn heads, I’LL DO IT!”  Habeas
corpus
be damned. (Billy would be proud – after all, he’s said to have
killed one man for each of his 21 years . . . but only because he had to.)  To these otherwise lovely people, torture is
a no-brainer aspect of black and white justice dispensed and legitimized by the
virtue of common sense. The vigilante-cowboy trumps a government perceived not
as by and for the people, but by and for politicians whose collection of
complicated mumbo-jumbo laws and technicalities makes money for lawyers and
prevents “obvious” justice and “true freedom.”  I’ve listened to this constellation of
arguments my whole life, mistaking it for harmless cultural posturing.  It’s very much not.

With their claps and boos, my neighbors showed their political
colors . . . mostly the reds of danger,
anger, and blood sport.  The VERY uptight
lady next to me clutched the entire 1000-page health bill liberally splashed with
yellow highlighter.  A former county
commissioner, she explained that she’d read ALL of it and had marked her
concerns.  I commended her and she pursed
a smug smile in response.  I have to
admit, I haven’t done such due diligence. 
Like her, I listen to those I trust and I believe logic to be on my side
. . . but at least she’s read the bill.  She
gushed on about her latest tea-party until a woman ahead revealed a “Single
Payer Only” sign pinned to her back.  “TREE-HUGGER!”
the Tea-bagger hissed, clutching the bill more closely to her thin bosom.  (I imagine her leaving her house, trying to
decide whether to bring the health bill or a rifle, but too scrawny to carry
both.) As my own leanings became clear, I expected her to say something
mean.  But, no - we sat with our arms
brushing one another, each cheering our own cause, and she graciously refrained
from clobbering me with her bill. 

I’d arrived 2 ½ hours early to save a seat for a
friend.  Our convention center tried to
crush 500+ people into their smallest 200-person room, but since Senator Tom
Udall was 45 minutes late, they expanded the room, added another 10 rows of
chairs, and still left people standing.  Names
were drawn, five at a time, and the citizens lined up to speak their minds,
such as they were.

 “IF HEALTH CARE IS
MANDATED BY THE FEDS, STATES AND LOCAL GOVERNMENTS WILL PAY!”

"DEMOCRATS HAVE HINDERED REFORM FOR SOCIAL SECURITY!”

I scribbled copious notes amid the mooing boos.  A woman lamented the high cost of insurance
to small businesses and asked: “At the age of 65, I finally qualified for
Medicare to resolve chronic conditions I’ve had all my life.  Why can’t we have insurance before we’re 65?”  Everyone started to cheer, which seemed a bit
weird, because wouldn’t that mean broadening Medicare for all, in a single-payer
kind of way?  One fellow rudely yelled: “GET
A JOB!” clearly annoyed by self-employed small business owners, loafing about,
irresponsibly following their entrepreneurial bliss.  The cheering faltered, then altogether
aborted in an awkward “Oh! Uh, uh-oh, I mean . . . BOOooo” fade-out.   (They
hate it when we trick them into cheering for things that make sense.)

“TORT REFORM WITH A CAP ON PUNITIVE DAMAGES!”

A retired doctor explained that between May and October the
Medicaid budget runs out and he is never paid for those months.  He added, “You have 400B in promises and only
16B, and that won’t cover it!”  The crowd
went wild, sneering at the “no increase to the deficit” claim by Senator Udall.

Several people wanted the bill to be divided into smaller
pieces than the 1000-page version, and one man suggested prioritizing it according
to the changes that would save the most money. 
At the slightest hint of cogent thought, my Teabagger waved her yellow
bill up over her head with both hands, shouting, “A THOU-SAND PAGES, A THOU-SAND PAGES . . .
I’VE READ EVERY ONE OF THEM!”

Senator Udall supported a public
option.  Our spirited blueberry applause sounded
comparatively puny amid the vigorous boos.  

One guy groused that Arlan Spector
said at a recent NM gathering that healthcare will be decided in DC rather than
by the people in town halls.  Senator
Udall didn’t seem to know whether Senator Spector had been in New Mexico, but
he couldn’t prove it on the spot, and some twisted viral email probably won
that argument.   (I later found a non-NM quote
where Senator Spector said that health
care protestors don’t represent America and mustn’t be allowed to dominate the
scene and influence policy
.
) Interesting paraphrase, mister.

God FORBID that “illegals” might
receive care, (because of course, it’s apparently better that THOSE people
cough “their” swine flu onto the rest of us or bleed into our soil than that we
show any inconvenient  Samaritan compassion.
If they drop dead around us, no doubt we’ll hear objections to the cost of
burying them!)  A squeaky clean,
horn-rimmed, polyester Baptist minister wanted to rename the health bill,
“H1N1” because “it will open the door to abortion.”

He asked Senator Udall to commit to
signing on with the health plan if it is passed.  The senator immediately agreed, and the crowd
exploded into sarcastic skepticism.  “AH,
Yeah, RIGHT – SURE - BOO!” they yelled.  (Who
raised these people?)  “Congress should
go on the same health insurance as the rest of the country!” The senator
explained the menu of options offered to federal employees, and said that the
plan called for the same menu to be available to all.  (more
jeers)
  “NO IT DOESN’T – I’VE READ IT
– A THOU-SAND PAGES!”

Senator Udall explained the need to
prevent pharmaceuticals from slightly changing patents to gain an extra five
years before a drug goes generic.  (actual applause for the senator) The
next guy asked why NM wanted him to inventory his guns, then there was an
energy question, and the room erupted into a Palin oil chant:  “DRILL BABY DRILL!”  I rooted in my bag for an Excedrin.

A local doctor began sensibly
enough: “there are no controls in your plan – 80% of this will depend on your
Health and Human Services department.” A little applause, his ego swelled
exponentially, and his voice rose as he launched a dramatic pontification: “You’re
just going to fix this with more BULLSHIT – we’re being DECEIVED, and our CONGRESSMEN
(Bingaman and Teague) don’t even have the BALLS to come and TALK to us!”  The little dose of pith intoxicated the crowd into
wild cheers and under the heady limelight, the doctor scampered up and down the
aisles asking if people wanted his phone number . . . apparently channeling his
inner Billy the Kid.

My friend muttered:  “I can’t tell what they want – these people are
all veterans, teachers, and seniors, and THEY already HAVE government-funded
healthcare!”

My former math teacher, a generational
rancher and lifelong family friend approaching 70, approached the mike.  A well-known good-ol’-boy, he objected to
squeezing a tax increase from struggling small businesses to pay for health
reform, then segued straight from reason to drawling sarcasm and pseudo-good-natured
ridicule. “The public option is supposed to keep insurance companies HONEST? 
Now I’m just an old rancher, who used to be a schoolteacher, and I
taught MATH, and you folks are trying to say that you’ve got 14 insurance
companies and you want to add one public option.  Now by my math, that makes 15 companies – but
how in the world is one more supposed
to keep anyone HONEST?”(wild unbridled applause) REALLY - Mr. T?  Fourteen apples plus one orange equals fifteen
apples? 

In the end, although gracious,
Senator Udall failed to zap the fallacies with a laser gun of logic.  He held his own, but gained little ground.  I felt somehow older, wiser, and sad that my
beloved community casts such a rough and cynical shadow impervious to logic and
intellectual integrity.

It’s been a few weeks since our town
hall.  Our “balanced” newspaper spun some
yarn about how the courageous citizens of Ruidoso put the shifty Senator Udall
in his place and were far too wily to be taken in by his insidious liberal propaganda.  Last week, someone spit on a man for having an
Obama bumper sticker in the grocery store parking lot.  (Note to Self:  stock sanitary wipes in car since my own
bumper sticker says, “I like Obama, but is America Ready for a President with
Brains?”) 

I wonder whether Ruidoso will want
to secede into the sunset along with Texas, our mother-ship.  After all, it tracks that TRUE Americans will
want to give up and rid themselves of . . . America. With Billy the Kid as the
local hero, anything’s possible.

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