Bill Press is host of a nationally syndicated radio show and author of a new book, "TOXIC TALK: How the Radical Right Has Poisoned America's Airwaves." His website is billpress.com.More ↓Less ↑
Ah, democracy! It never works better than when informed citizens gather in town hall meetings to discuss and debate the issues of the day.
But, oh, democracy! It’s never more damaged than when partisan zealots plot to disrupt town hall meetings in order to prevent any honest debate of the issues.
And that’s exactly what’s happening in health care forums held across the nation by members of Congress. We’ve seen it in Philadelphia; Austin, Texas; Georgetown, Del.; Salisbury, Md; and other communities. Taking a page right out of a Nazi playbook, organizers bus in professional protesters and arm them with instructions on how to take over meetings, shut down discussion, shout over any pro-health care reform speakers and then post video of the resulting chaos on YouTube. It’s mob rule, pure and simple.
Having encouraged viewers to show up, sympathetic anchors on Fox News then pretend these are “grass-roots” protests springing up spontaneously across the country in opposition to President Obama’s plans for health care reform. Nonsense. There’s nothing spontaneous about them. They’re not grass-roots protests; they’re “Astroturf” protests. Just look at who’s paying the freight, who shows up and what orders they’re given.
Funding and direction for the Stalinist-style campaign comes from two conservative, lobbyist-run Washington think tanks: Americans for Prosperity, headed by Tim Phillips, former partner of Ralph Reed in Century Strategies; and FreedomWorks, led by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey. Previously, both organizations funded and orchestrated the so-called “tea parties” staged on April 15. And in many ways, today’s town halls are simply a continuation of yesterday’s tea parties, with many of the same players and tactics.
Tea baggers, in fact, have been busy lately. They came out in force on July 20, the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing, to deny that Neil Armstrong ever walked on the moon. They became overnight “birthers” to deny the authenticity of Obama’s birth certificate. And now the same tea bagger/moonie/birther fringe element of the Republican Party is turning out to deny Americans health care reform.
How do tea baggers know when and where to show up? Easy. Organizers e-mail a list of scheduled congressional town hall meetings nationwide. Pick one near you, or sign up for the bus.
And how do they know what to do when they get there? That’s easy, too. A leaked memo by Robert MacGuffie originally posted on the FreedomWorks website, TeaPartyPatriots.org, spells it out. Rule No. 1: Artificially inflate your numbers. Advises MacGuffie: “Spread out in the hall and try to be in the front half. … The representative should be made to feel that a majority, and if not, a significant portion of at least the audience, opposes the socialist agenda of Washington.”
Rule No. 2: Be as disruptive as possible. “You need to rock the boat early in the Rep’s presentation.” Why? Rule No. 3: “The goal is to rattle him, get him off his prepared script and agenda. If he says something outrageous, stand up and shout out and sit right back down. Look for these opportunities before he even takes questions.”
Clearly, the tea baggers’ goal is not to take part in any debate over health care, but to prevent any debate. And that, I believe, will prove counterproductive.
The more their disruptive tactics are seen on YouTube, the more these town hall bullies will turn people off. Americans don’t like rude, ugly, obnoxious behavior, on the left or the right. Health care is a serious issue, demanding and deserving of serious debate. Turning loose the mob to shut down that debate is not the way to win the hearts and minds of undecided Americans.
Astroturf protesters have one other problem: While they’re against Obama’s plan for health care reform, they’re not for anything else. There is no alternative Republican plan. The only thing they have to offer is the status quo – which is simply unacceptable. Because the status quo means insurance companies continue to rule: able to deny coverage because of a pre-existing condition, able to limit or drop coverage because of serious illness, and able to raise premiums annually – thereby bankrupting both families and businesses.
In the end, the staged town hall protests will hurt the opposition’s cause, not help it, which is why, were I a Republican member of Congress, I’d encourage these yahoos to stay home. Were I a Democratic member, I’d pay them to show up.