Dissent is still patriotic, isn't it?


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by Jack Cashill
Published in ingramsonline.com - September 2009

Jackson Sherard is exactly the kind of citizen who makes America great and exactly the kind of citizen who would keep me from ever running for office.

Sherard served in Desert Storm as part of a 12-year active-duty stint in the Marine Corps, then was reactivated in 2005 and dispatched to the Horn of Africa, a hellhole that could make Afghanistan look like Martha’s Vineyard. In 2008, he retired from the Marines and settled back down in his native Kansas.

Sherard identifies himself as one of those “Republican for Dennis Moore” types, an independent cuss, as retired Marines tend to be, who has crossed party lines in the past to vote for whomever he likes, including Moore, his current congressman.

For those politicians—or corporate managers, for that matter—who want to learn how to turn an armchair supporter into an energized foe, the following story is instructive.

“Every time I hear the words ‘astro turf’ or ‘manufactured rage,’ I become madder and more determined,” says Sherard, a poster child for the tenacious, tea-partying, America that has half of Washington in hiding.

As the August recess approached, Sherard got serious about health care. What prompted his concern were recycled video clips—damn that Youtube!—of the president and House leaders singing the praises of a Canadian-style single-payer system. On July 28, Sherard called both of Moore’s offices and asked whether the congressman planned to speak to the local public on this issue.

Moore’s staff encouraged him to check the Web site. It said nothing.

And so it began. Over most of the next two weeks, Sherard was a nearly daily presence on the phone, in voice-mailboxes or in person at Moore’s local office, a picture of persistence that paid off, eventually, with a one-on-one meeting with the congressman.

In the interest of fairness, Ingram’s contacted Moore’s office to get his take. As he told us, “It’s great to see that people are involved in the democratic process and are so passionate about the issue of health-care reform.”

Moore added, “I wish that I could sit down with every single constituent who wants to meet with me, but there are simply not enough hours in the day.”

But the imperatives of a 24-hour day will often yield to the determination of a man like Jackson Sherard.

On July 29, he called both offices again and asked to speak with permanent staff, not the interns. They said Moore’s “schedule was fluid.” On July 30, Sherard called again. Now he was told that Moore’s “schedule was very full.”  On July 31, the staff told him that Moore would have community office hours, during which time he would meet with constituents. Sherard asked when and where they would be held, and was told that none had been scheduled yet.

On Aug. 4, Sherard again asked: had any healthcare forums been scheduled?  None, he was told, but the congressman had sent out healthcare surveys. This was the first Sherard had heard of the surveys, and asked to be sent one. On Aug. 5, he showed up at Moore’s office with completed survey in hand. “Does the congressman have any public forums or constituent office hours scheduled?” he asked.

“Not at this time,” a staffer an-swered. “As important as the health care debate is, it looks like the congressman is ducking his constituents,” said Sherard. “Is that the case?” At this point, the staffer had probably begun to rethink his interest in a political career.

On Aug. 6, Sherard, now about as welcome in Moore’s office as the swine flu, showed up again. This time he was able to talk to Mike Peterson, a full-time aide. Sherard rehashed his efforts to contact Moore and explained that he had started this inquiry as just another concerned citizen, but that the DNC’s “angry mob” ad was turning him into the proverbial peasant with a pitchfork.

In watching the ad, Sherard learned that he was not his own man after all, but rather a pawn in the hands of the insurance company lobbyists. So designated, he figured he might as well do K-Street’s bidding and work to unseat Dennis Moore, as the lobbyists had apparently programmed him to do.

Twenty years in the Marine Corps can make even a Kansan an ironist. So when Sherard asked Peterson why was it that dissent had been downgraded from the highest form of patriotism just a year ago to the lowest form of mob action today, Peterson had no answer. How could he? There was no good answer.

Sherard proved that orneriness has its privileges. He wangled one of those stingily dispensed 15-minute, sit-downs with Moore. That took place on Monday, Aug. 10. The congressman was “pleasant and respectful,” Sherard stated. Being a Marine Master Sergeant, Sherard cut right to the chase.

He informed Moore, as he had previously informed Sens. Sam Brownback and Pat Roberts, of his “no-go” propositions. These included a health-care plan with any type of public option, coverage for illegal aliens, abortion funding, or one that required a budget increase. The candidate who supported any of these would not get his vote.

That much established, Sherard explained the uniquely American nature of his protest. If Moore thought it manufactured, “he over-estimated the organizational skills of the Republican Party.” By ducking public meetings, by dissing them even, Sherard continued, Moore gave the impression that he too was unable to distinguish real grass roots from Astroturf.

Moore had an out. He had been receiving unspecified “threats,” and these had dissuaded him from venturing out in public. Moore was talking to the wrong guy. Sherard had learned something about threat assessments in his less glamorous but slightly more dangerous branch of the government. He bit his tongue.

The following day, Moore met with The Star’s editorial board. In defending his decision not to hold a public forum, he repeated the tale of the threats, again unspecified. Prejudging his generally well-behaved Kansas constituents, Moore added that he did not wish “to give an opportunity to people who want to put on a show to put on a show.” 

“Show?” Good gosh! This further aggravated Sherard, who had not previously thought of his dissent as a form of showmanship. To further confuse matters, just two days after Moore’s public dismissal of town halls, a group “calling itself Health Care for America Now!” (HCAN) announced a Sept. 1 show of its own, featuring none other than Dennis Moore.

Sherard did some quick Internet research on HCAN and learned—quelle surprise!—that it was underwritten by the kind of groups whose people arrive in buses: ACORN, SEIU, MoveOn.org and the like. “Real Astro Turf,” says Sherard.

As of this writing, it is hard to know whether there really will be a town hall, and if so, what form it will take. As to Sherard, if he does not fully succeed in making democracy work, he will at least have made it break a sweat.

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