Now, corporate-funded conservative astroturfing firms like FreedomWorks, chaired by former House majority leader Dick Armey, a Republican who is now a Washington lobbyist, and Americans for Prosperity, led by Tim Phillips, who once made big bucks from Enron for generating supposed grassroots support for energy deregulation, have helped catalyze these crowds. Meanwhile, a right-wing activist has circulated a memo recommending that conservatives rattle a lawmaker with interruptions and otherwise work to put him on the defensive. (Yes, I know that the White House has now ginned up its allies too, some of whom have been loud and aggressive.)

But even if you weren’t aware of all that, it would be hard to mistake the hostile town hall encounters for a serious barometer of voter sentiment. Sure, some talk-radio types are insisting they are. Lawmakers know better, however. After all, if these folks really spoke for the country, Democrats wouldn’t control Congress, and Obama would never have been elected.

All we’ve learned here is something we already knew: This nation never has to worry about suffering from a shortage of kooks, cranks, and ideologues.