(CNN) -- The battle raging over President Obama's health care plan has spread from across the aisles in Congress to across the country.
Senators this week joined their colleagues from the House at town hall meetings as they spent their August recess in their home districts.
But disruptive protests are turning town hall meetings into shouting matches and drowning out discussion over what is and isn't in health care plans in the House and Senate.
Videos of the protests have been circulating on the Internet, showing raucous crowds heckling their congressmen, and carrying posters with devil horns drawn on lawmakers' heads, swastikas or Obama with Adolf Hitler's mustache.
Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, who had a town hall meeting disrupted by angry protesters earlier this month, said he had never experienced such emotion in his 15 years of holding such forums.
Democratic Rep. Brad Miller of North Carolina even had a death threat phoned into his office. A caller said that if Miller supported Obama's plan, it could cost him his life, Miller told CNN.
"Of course we want a full debate. Of course we want people who have dissenting views from the administration and Congress to have a full hearing. But that's not what this is about. That's not the intent of most of these people. It's not the way the press is covering it," Mark Halperin, editor-at-large and senior political analyst for TIME magazine, said on CNN's "Reliable Sources."
The protesters' gimmicks, Halperin said, are grabbing the public and media's attention, and valid arguments over the cost and content of the proposals are being put on the back burner."There needs to be a debate in America on whether we should have universal health care. There needs to be a debate on the president's ideas. If these protesters have ideas, great. Let's hear them. But if they're just stunts to cause a disruption that gets the media tripped in every time, again, I think it's bad for the country whether you want the president's plan or not," he said.
Debate is a foundational element of a democracy. It is a critical process in order to arrive at reasonable resolution of any significant problem, certainly of this magnitude. Those trying to disrupt the debate rather than participate in it are distracting us from our civic duty; not participating in it. Certainly they are free to protest (provided they do so peacefully), but under the circumstances, their credibility is suspect at best. Protest should be reserved for the times when the necessary debate is not happening or when important parties to it are excluded. To protest the very debate itself is just pathetic; even stupid.