Though written by Alexis de Tocqueville in 1834, it just as easily could have been written in 2009:
"Scarcely have you descended on the soil of America when you find yourself in the midst of a sort of tumult; a confused clamor is raised on all sides; a thousand voices come to your ear at the same time, each of them expressing some social needs. Around you everything moves: here, the people of one neighborhood have gathered to learn if a church ought to be built; there, they are working on the choice of a representative; farther on, the deputies of a district are going to town in all haste in order to decide about some local improvements; in another place, the farmers of a village abandon their furrows to go discuss the plan of a road or a school."
"Citizens assemble with the sole goal of declaring that they disapprove of the course of government. To meddle in the government of society and to speak about it is the greatest business..."
And so it is today in town hall meetings all across the nation: the prospect of health care reform in the United States has engendered much discussion; some of it fruitful and some simply mean-spirited, some of it motivated by conviction and some motivated by political maneuverings. Yet despite all of its shortcomings, it is the very fact that we can have such open discourse that makes our nation great. So what one man saw and perceived as "meddling" is, in fact, a bedrock of American greatness—the opportunity to participate in self-governance; it is the opportunity to let one's voice shape one's destiny.
I'll try to bring some research relevance to this topic in the next installment.