Thursday, August 06, 2009

The Dangers of Astroturf

Now, we should confess that we have been accused on many an occasion of fomenting the kind of phony grass roots lobbying campaign that ObamaCare supporters are charging that the opponents of state-run health care are using to intimidate local town hall meetings. Our response? Well, we usually pointed out that no amount of community organizing can gin up an unconcerned and generally apathetic neighborhood.

The key to successful grass roots efforts involves pinpointing existing grievances and, in Saul Alinsky's terms, "rubbing raw the sores of discontent." So, it is with some amusement that we read our friend Errol Louis' screed against the August health care "astroturfing" that, in his words is, "political thuggerry." Well, one man's freedom fighter-you know the rest.

The Louis piece, however, reminds us of the dangers of playing on astroturf-although we've never heard of commentators getting hurt; that is, until Louis apparently threw out his shoulder hurling animadversions against the protesters: "It's getting ugly out there.From coast to coast, as members of Congress try to engage their constituents on the important matter of health care reform, many of them - mostly Democrats - are being shouted down by howling mobs."

Civil unrest, urban disorders-bring on the Kerner Commission; the well orchestrated Obama campaign for taking over 20% of the American economy is being threatened by evil corporate lobbyists: "Political thuggery is always sickening. What makes the current round especially abhorrent is the fact that some of the mob behavior appears to be the work of corporate lobbying groups that are spending an estimated $1.4 million a day to block reform."

Now we have no doubt that corporate interests are trying to egg on the protests; but Errol elides over the real anger that is percolating out there in the precincts-only giving lip service to the reality of the actual grass roots anger: "Some of the disrupters are genuinely ticked-off citizens upset at President Obama's policies on health care, the environment and the economy. More power to such protesters, I say - provided they allow others at these town halls to hear and be heard."

Now, we're not big fans of an obsessive incivility, but it is important to dramatize the way in which proponents of government run health care have been trying to speed up the process; and avoid answering the hard questions about the implications of what this all means for America. Errol hasn't complained about the staged town hall meetings-seeded with the proper kinds of questioners-that the president himself has been orchestrating. One can see how this Potemkin Village-like phoniness could get on the nerves of some really concerned and upset folks.

Michele Malkin captures some of what Louis manages to avoid: "President Obama's architects of Kabuki town halls have packed public forums with partisan plants. Now they accuse opponents gathering at impromptu rallies against the massive health-care takeover of orchestrating "manufactured anger." Unaccustomed to pushback, the wealthy, astroturfed ground troops for ObamaCare -- underwritten by unions, liberal philanthropists, the AARP, ACORN and your tax dollars -- have resorted to projection. The health-care takeover lobby boasts a $40 million budget and a stable of seasoned operatives based at 1825 K Street in Washington, DC. Now that cabal is accusing the broad coalition of taxpayer activists, libertarians, independents, talk-radio loyalists, bloggers and first-time protesters of being, yes, wealthy and astroturfed."

The reality here, is that the deficit driving and government expansion activities of the Obama administration have galvanized a public that hasn't been known to be in your face active-and it must come as some shock to see the mostly middle class folks red faced and angry. But the polls don't lie; and the folks are worried and muy upset.

But Errol Louis is a proponent of ObamaCare, and his biggest concern is that the protesting will have the kind of impact that will thwart the president's goal: "In Austin, Tex., a forum by Rep. Lloyd Doggett dissolved into chaos as a chanting crowd surrounded him and prevented the congressman from speaking. Some of the estimated 5.8 million Texans with no health insurance - 25% of the population, the highest such percentage in America - might have wanted to hear from Doggett, but it wasn't to be."

But the current proposals have the potential of making things much worse for all of the hard working folks-more than 80% of all Americans-who already have insurance; and who worry that the changes proffered will cut their health care options will also raising their costs at the same time. It appears to them much like how we heard Dennis Miller describe the proposal: it's like a school principal demanding that most of the children give up their milk money so a few of the lactose intolerant kids could be taken care of.

So anger here-within reason-is good; and to conflate what's going on to insurrection is a not only a disservice, it will prove to be counterproductive to those whose talking points Louis so willingly is borrowing from. His end paragraph, dots the I's and crosses the T's of our point: "But the right-wing goon squads disrupting health care town hall meetings nationwide aren't just an annoyance - they are a threat to democracy that should be taken seriously and prosecuted when they cross the line between advocacy and violent intimidation."

Indeed! How dare the relatively silent middle class take up cudgels and get in the face of their elected officials-and in the process adopt some of the Alinsky-like tactics that the left has used to foment disssent for decades. Instead of being upset, the left should be flattered. And if they want to make their points more forcefully, why don't they get out and counter-organize. Then we might get a chance to see who is really grass roots, and who is simply astroturfing with special interest money.