As Pelosi was saying the country needs a “balance” between security and privacy, Marc Perkel, a 57-year-old activist from Gilroy, Calif., started shouting at Pelosi during her answer and was escorted out of the room.I was in the audience because I usually attend the Netroots Nation conventions. The video is here, Saturday Noon Keynote - Ask The Speaker 06/22/2013:
"It's not a balance. It’s not constitutional!" he yelled. "No secret laws!"
Others in the room began shouting as well, saying things like "Leave him alone!" or "That's what a police state looks like right there!"
The moderator, Zerlina Maxwell, worked to quiet the crowd by saying audience members needed to submit questions via Twitter rather than shouting them out, but Pelosi said she didn't mind.
"I welcome the challenges that people pose because I think that those questions must be answered," Pelosi said.
She was further booed when she said Snowden did break the law by leaking the information he revealed.
"As far as Snowden: he did violate the law in terms of releasing those documents," she said.
Pelosi's appearance was set up as a question-and-answer format. At about 43:30, the interviewer/moderator, Zerlina Maxwell, asks about Edward Snowden and the NSA spying. After four minutes of a dissembling answer by Pelosi, at about 47:30 you here someone interrupt to try to focus her response, which Maxwell actually should have been doing. Security made the guy leave the hall, which was dumb. He was being technically rude but you hear Pelosi even say it's all right, and she was responding to his comment. (It's not as though Pelosi has never been mildly heckled in her career before. She's San Francisco's Congresswoman, for God's sake!) Her answer was Obama Party-line all the way, including on Snowden, with a few meaningless verbal nods to "transparency". I'm guessing the boos she gets on Snowden were as much directed toward security removing the guy as to her answer. The booing comes just after 50:30.
But I'm glad Pelosi caught some static at this from what is usually a naturally sympathetic audience for her. The Netroots Nation staff likes to schedule this kind of interview-style appearance with senior officials. But they're also tempted to put people who aren't really that good at it in charge of doing the questions and apparently give them direction to toss softball questions. Which particularly irritates me, because it's supposed to be a convention of us obnoxious bloggers who bitch about the mainstream media doing that kind of thing all the time. Maxwell pretty much went moot after the crowd got a little unruly there and hardly asked another question. Pelosi had to go extemporaneous for half an hour or so, which of course politicians are happy to do. (You can see my grouchy real-time tweets from the event here: http://twitter.com/brucemillerca)
It's not impossible to do. Joan McCarter from Daily Kos was the interviewer for Harry Reid in 2010. She was respectful but asked him appropriately challenging questions.
Appearances like that are a chance for the interviewer to raise concerns that are of particular interest to the netroots. And the Netroots Nation participants, if not always the staff, mostly understand themselves as progressives who are not only criticizing Republican obstructionists but pushing Democratic officials to take progressive stands on important issues. Anyone doing these "Ask The Speaker" type interviews need to press the official to address those kinds of concerns.
Because if a politician, even the most progressive ones, walk away from these events thinking, oh, these people are fine with how I'm handling things because they just applauded and nobody even offered challenging questions, they'll figure they have that constituency in their pocket. The good thing about that appearance with Pelosi is that she not only got some pushback directly from the crowd. But because Politico picked it up as "Nancy Pelosi booed, heckled at Netroots Nation 2013," at least for a few moments it will register on the minds of the Beltway Village and, more importantly, Members of Congress that this could become a political pain in the ass for Democrats. And that's a good thing!
Pelosi started off her presentation by talking about the amateurishness of the Congressional Republicans and their leadership over last week's farm bill vote. But she also has reason to complain about the amateurishness of Maxwell's moderation and the way security acted. I've been present at public meetings where a group directly intended to disrupt it. And in cases like that, yes, you do at some point have to require the hecklers to leave.
But this wasn't a public meeting where the local Tea Partiers for Militant Ignorance can just show up and try to shout the speakers down. People attending Netroots Nation have to pay a registration fee, $205 for the 2014 event if you register right now. And you have to show your registration tag to enter the events or even the exhibit hall. Participants also are typically flying to the convention location and paying for a three or four nights hotel stay. Many are sponsored in some way. But it means that the local shut-ins who spend their days listening to Rush Limbaugh and FOX News aren't going to be wandering into the speeches in large numbers to shout down speakers.
Throwing someone out for shouting out a relevant question or challenge when the speaker herself who is being heckled is saying that it's all right and she's responding to his challenge is just dumb. Amateur hour, as Pelosi was saying about the Republicans on the farm bill. So was Maxwell's scolding the heckler and later those who booed by telling them to fill out a question card. It came off the Netroots Nation equivalent of the suggestion box, the most basic of ways companies who don't give a flying flip about their employees' opinions but want to make the barest of pretenses of doing so.
Pelosi is obviously one of the top professionals in the political world. But compared to her peers, she typically not especially effective in interview situations. Plus, in her position as Minority Leader in the House, she's generally expected to reflect something like a consensus Party position on issues. That means that an interviewer in a Netroots Nation forum like that needs to be prepared both to keep her focused in her responses and to have some sense for her interviewing style. Maxwell didn't seem to be prepared on either count. And even to a casual observer, Pelosi's waving two pieces of paper that no one could read and explaining that Obama's spying is okay because he has some kind of secret warrant from a secret court for it was pretty lame. Maxwell should have stepped in after a minute or two of that rambling and asked, well, pretty much the question the heckler asked.
Netroots Nation needs to step up their game on that kind of appearance.
Or just let Joan McCarter do those interviews. She knows what she's doing and knows how to prepare for them.
Tags: domestic spying, joan mccarter, nancy pelosi, netroots nation 2010, netroots nation 2013, zerlina maxwell