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Context of 'August 5, 2009: Democrats Charge ‘Mob Tactics’ Used at Health Care Meetings; Republicans Dispute Allegations'

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Moderate Republican House member Mike Castle (R-DE) faces a raucous band of angry conservative protesters at one of his “health care listening tour” meetings. Castle, who is one of eight Republicans to join the Democratic majority in voting for the American Clean Energy and Security Act, is challenged by a full range of accusations and conspiracy theories, some ranging far afield from health care reform and energy policy.
'Socialized Medicine' Worse than 9/11 - Some audience members accuse Castle of supporting “socialized medicine.” One member shouts, “I don’t have the answers for how to fix the broken pieces of our health care system, but I know darn well if we let the government bring in socialized medicine, it will destroy this thing faster than the twin towers came down.”
'Cap and Trade' Tax Will Destroy Economy - One audience member shouts that the proposed “cap and trade” tax on pollutants will destroy the US economy. “Do you have any idea what that cap and trade tax thing, bill that you passed is going to do to the Suffolk County poultry industry?” the member says. “That’s how chicken houses are heated, with propane. It outputs CO2. I mean, I’m outputting CO2 right now as I speak. Trees need CO2 to make oxygen! You can’t tax that!”
Global Warming a 'Hoax' - Many audience members respond with cheers and chants to expressions that global warming is a hoax. “I’m actually hopeful that this vote that you made was a vote to put you out of office,” one says to a barrage of applause and cheers. “You know, on this energy thing, I showed you, I had in my email to you numerous times there are petitions signed by 31,000 scientists that that know and have facts that CO2 emissions have nothing to do and the greenhouse effect has nothing to do with global warming. It’s all a hoax! [Applause.] First of all, I cannot for the life of me understand how you could have been one of the eight Republican traitors!” Another audience member says that global warming is “still a theory, so is Darwin’s theory of evolution! And yet we have the audacity to say global warming is accurate, it’s more than a theory? How about how cold it’s been this spring. Personal data, data shows that since 1998 average temperatures have been cooling!”
'Dead Baby Juice' Used to Create AIDS, Swine Flu - Some audience members believe that AIDS and the H1N1 “swine flu” epidemic are part of a conspiracy to kill Americans, using “dead baby juice.” “The virus was built and created in Fort Dix, a small bioweapons plant outside of Fort Dix,” one audience member asserts. “This was engineered. This thing didn’t just crop up in a cave or a swine farm. This thing was engineered, the virus. Pasteur International, one of the big vaccine companies in Chicago, has been caught sending AIDS-infected vaccines to Africa. Do you think I trust—I don’t trust you with anything. You think I’m going to trust you to put a needle full of dead baby juice and monkey kidneys? Cause that’s what this stuff is grown on, dead babies!”
Obama a Kenyan - One audience members wins a round of applause by asserting that President Obama is not an American citizen. “Congressman Castle, I want to know,” she shouts. “I have a birth certificate here from the United States of America saying I’m an American citizen, with a seal on it. Signed by a doctor, with a hospital administrator’s name, my parents, the date of birth, the time, the date. I want to go back to January 20th and I want to know why are you people ignoring his birth certificate? He is not an American citizen! He is a citizen of Kenya!”
Protests Organized by Conservative Lobbying Organizations - According to liberal news and advocacy site Think Progress, Castle and other moderate Republicans are facing orchestrated attacks on their energy and health care policies by conservative lobbying firms and right-wing talk show hosts. Lobbying organizations such as Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see May 29, 2009) have tarred Castle and other moderate Republicans as “cap and traitors,” joined by members of Fox News host Glenn Beck’s “9-12” organization (see March 13, 2009 and After) and exhorted by pronouncements from Beck, fellow talk show host Rush Limbaugh, the Web site Prison Planet, and others. [Think Progress, 7/21/2009]

Entity Tags: 9/12 Project, American Clean Energy and Security Act, Fox News, Glenn Beck, Barack Obama, Rush Limbaugh, Mike Castle, Pasteur International, Prison Planet (.com), Americans for Prosperity

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections

A Syracuse “town hall” meeting hosted by Democratic House member Dan Maffei (D-NY) turns ugly after police are forced to intervene to restore order. During the meeting, held at Lincoln Middle School and focusing on health care reform, conservative anti-reform protesters cause disruption with shouts, curses, and screams that repeatedly drown out both Maffei’s remarks and the questions and comments from the audience, which numbers around 400. Many of the protesters are members of one or another “tea party” groups (see April 8, 2009), which have long opposed the policies of the Obama administration. The worst of the attempts to shout down discussion comes when Maffei or audience members bring up the idea of the “public option,” the idea of a government-run alternative health care plan similar to Medicare or Medicaid. Some pro-reform audience members bicker with the anti-reformists, adding to the cacophany. Maffei will later say he believes many of the loudest and most discourteous anti-reform protesters were not from the district, but had been brought in by special interest groups (see July 23, 2009 and August 4, 2009). “Many of them are not even from the Congressional district,” Maffei says. “But we’re not going to check driver’s licenses and ask people if they live in the district. It’s very, very unfortunate.” After the meeting, Maffei says he is considering other formats for such meetings; he says any such format should allow everyone to speak and discuss ideas in a respectful fashion. “This has been a problem going on a little bit with our public meetings,” he says. “It just makes me think we can do a better job with the format.” [Syracuse Post-Standard, 7/12/2009; TPMDC, 8/3/2009]

Entity Tags: Dan Maffei

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections

Anti-health care reform protesters displays sign with swastika prominently featured.Anti-health care reform protesters displays sign with swastika prominently featured. [Source: Paul Rhea]The Democratic National Committee and several national and local unions stage a rally in Austin, Texas, to support the White House’s health care reform proposals. Anti-health care protesters also appear, one of whom carries a sign with a Nazi symbol prominently displayed. The sign warns that anti-reform advocates want “no repeats” of Nazi Germany, apparently in reference to the reform proposals. [TX 912 Candidates, 8/5/2009; Philip Martin, 8/6/2009]

Entity Tags: Democratic National Committee

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections

The conservative lobbying group Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see April 15, 2009 and May 29, 2009), in conjunction with the St. Louis Tea Party Coalition, organizes a large protest at a town hall meeting organized by Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO). Michelle Sherrod, a McCaskill aide, intends to discuss the senator’s opinion on the Obama administration’s health care reform proposals with the protesters, but AFP volunteers and associated protesters have a different agenda. The AFP Web alert says, “We hope we can have a vigorous yet courteous exchange Monday evening,” but according to liberal blog OpenLeft, whose contributors videotape part of the proceedings for YouTube, the conservative protesters—numbering somewhere around 1,000—are disruptive, often preventing Sherrod and other citizens from asking or answering questions. AFP later calls the protest a “smashing success.” The Fox News blog, Fox Nation, celebrates the protest with the headline, “Tea Party Protest Erupts During Senator’s Town Hall!” [Americans for Prosperity, 7/24/2009; Open Left, 7/27/2009; St. Louis Business Journal, 7/27/2009; Americans for Prosperity, 7/28/2009; Fox Nation, 7/29/2009]

Entity Tags: St. Louis Tea Party Coalition, Claire McCaskill, Americans for Prosperity, Michelle Sherrod, Fox News, OpenLeft

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections

The Internet news site Politico reports on the quickly escalating confrontations occurring at “town hall” meetings held around the country, featuring conservative protesters agitating against the White House’s health care reform proposals (see Late July, 2009). Reporter Alex Isenstadt writes: “Screaming constituents, protesters dragged out by the cops, congressmen fearful for their safety—welcome to the new town hall-style meeting, the once-staid forum that is rapidly turning into a house of horrors for members of Congress.” The meetings, held by Democratic House members attempting to discuss the health care proposals with their constituents, have quickly devolved into confrontational events disrupted by shouting, cursing protesters waving signs and shouting down speakers, often before they can begin speaking.
Other Methods to Discuss Issue with Constituents - After one such meeting (see June 22, 2009), House member Tim Bishop (D-NY) says he will not hold more town halls until late August. “I had felt they would be pointless,” he says. “There is no point in meeting with my constituents and [to] listen to them and have them listen to you if what is basically an unruly mob prevents you from having an intelligent conversation.” He adds: “I have no problem with someone disagreeing with positions I hold. But I also believe no one is served if you can’t talk through differences.” Other Democrats such as Bruce Braley (D-IA), Allen Boyd (D-FL), and Thomas Perriello (D-VA) have experienced similar incidents at their own town hall meetings. Isenstadt characterizes the meetings as plagued by “boiling anger and rising incivility.” Braley explains the heated protests by saying, “I think it’s just the fact that we are dealing with some of the most important public policy issues in a generation.” Bishop notes: “I think in general what is going on is we are tackling issues that have been ignored for a long time, and I think that is disruptive to a lot of people. We are trying, one by one, to deal with a set of issues that can’t be ignored, and I think that’s unsettling to a lot of people.” Dan Maffei (D-NY), whose July 12 meeting at a Syracuse middle school was disrupted, says he is considering other options to avoid the confrontations. “I think you’ve got to communicate through a variety of different ways,” he says. “You should do the telephone town hall meetings. You should do the town hall meetings. You should do the smaller group meetings. It’s important to do things in a variety of ways, so you don’t have one mode of communication. You’re going to have people of varying views, and in this case, you’ve got the two extremes who were the most vocal.” Russ Carnahan (D-MO) says he enjoys the town hall meetings, and will not let disruptions stop him from holding them. Perriello agrees. “I enjoy it, and people have a chance to speak their mind,” he says.
Countering the Protesters - Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), has planned countermethods for the spate of meetings to be held during the August recess. According to sources familiar with the meetings Van Hollen has held, Van Hollen advised his fellow Democrats to “Go on offense. Stay on the offense. It’s really important that your constituents hear directly from you. You shouldn’t let a day go by [that] your constituents don’t hear from you.”
Continuing the Protests - Van Hollen’s Republican counterpart, Pete Sessions (R-TX), who chairs the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), says the protests will continue. “We’ve seen Russ Carnahan, we’ve seen Tim Bishop, we’ve seen some other people face some very different crowds back home,” he says. “The days of you having a town hall meeting where maybe 15 or 20 of your friends show up—they’re over. You’ve now got real people who are showing up—and that’s going to be a factor.” Asked if the Republicans would use the confrontations against Democrats, Sessions says, “Wait till next year.”
Possible Backlash? - Democrats warn that Republicans will likely face a backlash in public opinion if the public perceives the party as being too closly aligned with tea party activists or other radical-right protesters. Former DCCC political director Brian Smoot says: “It’s a risk that they align themselves with such a small minority in the party. They risk alienating moderates.” [Politico, 7/31/2009]

Entity Tags: Dan Maffei, Brian Smoot, Allen Boyd, Alex Isenstadt, Chris Van Hollen, Tim Bishop, Russ Carnahan, Bruce Braley, Obama administration, Pete Sessions, National Republican Congressional Committee, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Politico, Thomas Perriello

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections

Anti-reform protesters carry signs depicting Doggett with ‘devil horns’ and a sign featuring Nazi SS lettering.Anti-reform protesters carry signs depicting Doggett with ‘devil horns’ and a sign featuring Nazi SS lettering. [Source: Raw Story]Congressman Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) receives a hostile reception in a town hall meeting in an Austin grocery store. The meeting is to discuss the controversial Democratic health care reform proposal. The crowd is much larger than some had anticipated, and apparently packed with anti-health care reform protesters; anti-reform and anti-Obama signs are prominently displayed, including signs that read, “No Socialized Health Care.” Protesters also wave signs with Doggett depicted with devil horns, of a marble tombstone with Doggett’s name on it, and with slogans alleging Democrats are Nazis. When Doggett tells the crowd that he will support the reform plan even if his constituents oppose it, many in the crowd begin chanting “Just say no!” and, according to news reports, “overwhelm… the congressman as he move[s] through the crowd and into the parking lot.” One resident says of the meeting: “The folks there thought their voices weren’t being heard. They were angry, but they were respectful. There wasn’t any violence.” Another says, laughing: “He jumped in [his car] and fled. It was like he was tarred and feathered and ridden out of town on a rail. It was a beautiful thing.” Doggett later notes that because of the disruption, he is unable to engage in discussion with constituents who have other issues, including a father who wants his help in getting his son into a military academy. [Austin American-Statesman, 8/3/2009; New York Times, 8/3/2009; Atlantic Monthly, 8/4/2009]
Congressman: Protesters a 'Mob' - Doggett will later characterize the anti-reform protesters as a “mob.” In a statement, he says: “This mob, sent by the local Republican and Libertarian parties, did not come just to be heard, but to deny others the right to be heard. And this appears to be part of a coordinated, nationwide effort. What could be more appropriate for the ‘party of no’ than having its stalwarts drowning out the voices of their neighbors by screaming ‘just say no!‘… Their fanatical insistence on repealing Social Security and Medicare is not just about halting health care reform but rolling back 75 years of progress. I am more committed than ever to win approval of legislation to offer more individual choice to access affordable health care. An effective public plan is essential to achieve that goal.” [Politico, 8/3/2009; CBS News, 8/3/2009]
Coordinated by Local Republicans, Washington Lobbyist Firm, 'Tea Party' Group - The protest is coordinated by Heather Liggett, a local Republican Party operative, and by officials with the lobbying firm Americans for Prosperity (AFP), which has organized numerous anti-tax “tea party” demonstrations (see April 15, 2009 and May 29, 2009). Liggett confirms she is part of a national network of conservative organizers putting together anti-reform protests. Doggett says: “This is not a grassroots effort. This is a very coordinated effort where the local Republican Party, the local conservative meet-up groups sent people to my event.” Of the event itself, he says: “In Texas, not only with the weather but with the politics, it is pretty hardball around here. I have a pretty thick skin about all of this. But this really goes over the line.” And Jennifer Crider, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), adds: “Conservative activists don’t want to have a conversation. They want to disrupt.” [New York Times, 8/3/2009] Democratic National Committee (DNC) spokesman Brad Woodhouse says, “The right-wing extremists’ use of things like devil horns on pictures of our elected officials, hanging members of Congress in effigy, breathlessly questioning the president’s citizenship, and the use of Nazi SS symbols and the like just shows how outside of the mainstream the Republican Party and their allies are.” Another group with connections to the “tea party” movement, “Operation Embarrass Your Congressman,” helped organize the protest. It says on its Web site: “These arrogant, ignorant, and insolent [Congress members] have embarrassed America, trampled the Constitution, and ignored their constituents for far too long. Attend their townhall meetings during recess and press them with intelligent questions (unlike the mainstream media), asked in an intelligent manner to see if they are really in touch and on board with ‘the will of the people.’” [CBS News, 8/3/2009] After the meeting, FreedomWorks, a conservative lobbying organization that actively promotes disruptive behavior at Congressional town halls (see April 14, 2009), posts video from the meeting, and exhorts its members, “If you know of a town hall meeting your Congressman is having, be sure to show up, bring some friends, and them know what you think.” [FreedomWorks, 8/3/2009]

Entity Tags: Lloyd Doggett, Heather Liggett, Brad Woodhouse, FreedomWorks, Jennifer Crider, Operation Embarrass Your Congressman, Americans for Prosperity

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, US Domestic Terrorism, 2010 Elections

Fox News covers the Sebelius/Specter town hall meeting.Fox News covers the Sebelius/Specter town hall meeting. [Source: Eyeblast (.org)]Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Senator Arlen Specter (D-PA) hold a meeting at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia to discuss the White House’s health care reform proposals. A large and vocal crowd of anti-reform protesters attempts to shout over, or shout down, both Sebelius and Specter during the event. Over 400 people attend the meeting, and many “cheered, jeered, and booed” the two, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. Sebelius’s response to the crowd: “I’m happy to see democracy is at work.” The Inquirer reports, “Sebelius and Specter managed, barely, to impose a tenuous civility on the hour-long meeting titled ‘Health Insurance Reform—What’s in it for You.’” At one point, the booing and screaming become so pervasive that Sebelius informs the crowd, “We can shout at one another, or we can leave the stage.” Audience members verbally engage with each other as well: one, a self-identified Republican “political junkie,” says the nation cannot afford to insure 47 million uninsured Americans, and is countered by a rheumatologist who works with underinsured and uninsured patients, and who describes the horrific situations many of them face. One anti-reform participant tells the pair, “The American people don’t want rationed health care,” winning cheers from many in the audience. When Sebelius retorts that health care is already rationed for the 12,000 people a day whose insurance disappears when they lose their jobs, she wins applause from other audience members. About a dozen members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) are there to support Sebelius and Specter, and some members of the pro-reform group Physicians for Obama are also in attendance. Countering them are numerous audience members with “Tell Washington No” bumper stickers plastered to their chests. One anti-reform organization, the Philadelphia Tea Party Patriots, will later claim to have around 40 members in attendance. Outside the hall, dozens of anti-reform protesters picket with signs saying, among other slogans, “Government Health Care: Dangerous to Your Health,” “Welcome to the United States Socialist Republic,” and various anti-abortion signs. After the meeting, Sebelius says: “Health care touches everybody personally.… I find it difficult, because so much misinformation gets repeated in questions at town hall meetings. We have a challenge to get the message out.” [Philadelphia Inquirer, 8/3/2009] After the meeting, FreedomWorks (see April 14, 2009), a lobbying organization that actively promotes the town hall disruptions by conservative protesters, calls the event “a must emulate at town halls across the country over the next month.” [FreedomWorks, 8/3/2009]

Entity Tags: US Department of Health and Human Services, Arlen Specter, FreedomWorks, Service Employees International Union, Kathleen Sebelius, Physicians for Obama

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections

House Representative Gene Green (D-TX) holds a “town hall” meeting in North Houston to discuss a number of issues, including the economic stimulus and health care reform. Anti-health care reform activists attempt to disrupt the meeting, as has happened at previous events (see June 30, 2009, July 6, 2009, July 25, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 31, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 2, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 4, 2009, and August 4, 2009). However, according to local reporter David Jennings, although Green “had to struggle to keep his town meeting in order,” he “did not lose control of his meeting.” Jennings writes that Green was prepared for the disruptions. He chose a small venue for the meeting and allows people to “vent a little.” The disruption is limited, with one protester repeatedly shouting and catcalling (and eventually being upbraided by another audience member outside the venue). Health care reform is the dominant topic of discussion in the meeting. [Lone Star Times, 8/4/2009] Local Fox News reporter Duarte Geraldino interviews many of the conservative anti-reform protesters and reports, “some attendees admit they don’t live in the district.” Geraldino finds that many came as a result of “an internet campaign” by right-wing activists (see April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, and Before August 6, 2009) urging their members and supporters to attend town hall meetings and heckle Democratic Congress members. Geraldino hosts a video clip of one protester and notes, “Pay close attention to the man behind the congressman, he seems to have forgotten the part about respect.” The crowd is reportedly so raucous and disrespectful that another attendee says he came to give Green “a really hard time” but decides not to after being annoyed by the constant screaming and heckling from his fellows. “This is a free country, but I think there’s a certain degree of respect” required. [My Fox Houston, 8/4/2009; Think Progress, 8/4/2009] One conservative protester asks the audience to raise their hands if they “oppose any form of socialized or government-run health care.” Almost all raise their hands. Green quickly responds, “How many of you have Medicare?” About half the attendees raise their hands. Think Progress reporter Faiz Shakir later writes that they apparently “fail[ed] to note the irony.” Later in the discussion, a small business owner who supports health care asks how many people “do not have health insurance of some kind.” When only one person raises their hand, she says, “I think the people who are objecting are the people who have insurance.” [Think Progress, 8/4/2009]

Entity Tags: David Jennings, Faiz Shakir, Raymond Eugene (“Gene”) Green, Duarte Geraldino

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda

Two House Representatives, James McGovern (D-MA) and Richard Neal (D-MA), are booed and heckled during a contentious town hall meeting at the University of Massachusetts to discuss health care reform. Like so many other such forums and meetings, the discussion is disrupted by anti-health care reform protesters, who shout, scream, boo, catcall, and chant throughout the meeting (see June 30, 2009, July 6, 2009, July 25, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 31, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 2, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, and August 4, 2009). Both McGovern and Neal support the Obama administration’s health care reform proposals. University officials threaten several times to shut down the meeting because of the behavior. One protester shouts that McGovern is like Josef Mengele, the Nazi doctor who performed horrific experiments on concentration camp prisoners during World War II. According to local media reports, protesters outnumber supporters at the meeting. They argue that health care would be strictly rationed and elderly citizens would be denied care altogether, points vehemently disputed by the two congressmen. After the meeting, McGovern says it is plain that health care reform opponents had planned to dominate the meeting with their tactics, but adds: “This is still the United States of America and people have the right to be heard. The meeting wasn’t perfect and it wasn’t always polite but I got the opportunity to express my view on the subject.” [Worcester Telegram & Gazette, 8/4/2009]

Entity Tags: University of Massachusetts, Jim McGovern, Richard Neal

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections

Some Democratic politicians accuse Republicans of organizing “angry mobs” to disrupt town hall meetings around the country (see June 30, 2009, July 6, 2009, July 25, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 31, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 4, 2009, and August 5, 2009). Conservatives retort that the protests are spontaneous outbursts of anger and concern from ordinary citizens who oppose the White House’s health care reform proposals. According to a Democratic National Committee (DNC) ad, Republicans “have no plan for moving our country forward, so they’ve called out the mob.… [D]esperate Republicans and their well-funded allies” are trying to “destroy President Obama.” Senator Arlen Specter, who took part in a contentious town hall three days ago (see August 2, 2009), says: “I think that a fair amount of the activity was orchestrated. I think a fair amount of it was involved individuals who came without being orchestrated. But it was a battleground.” And White House press secretary Robert Gibbs says some of the anger from the crowds is manufactured: “In fact, I think you’ve had groups today, Conservatives for Patients Rights [CPR], that have bragged about organizing and manufacturing that anger” (see August 4, 2009). In return, CPR spokesman Brian Burgess says, “The White House is desperate for a scapegoat to blame for their failure to convince Americans to let the government take over health care.” A Democratic organization with connections to the Obama administration, Organizing for America, is planning strategy for upcoming events, including a Michigan appearance by Vice President Joe Biden. An e-mail from the organization encourages Michigan Democrats to “stand with the vice president and against the angry mobs being directed by Republican operatives in Washington to disrupt events throughout the month of August.” DNC spokesman Brad Woodhouse says that mobs of right-wing activists are being transported from one rally to another by “well-funded, highly organized groups run by Republican operatives and funded by the special interests who are desperately trying to stop the agenda for change the president was elected to bring to Washington.… This type of anger and discord did not serve Republicans well in 2008—and it is bound to backfire again.” Republican National Committee (RNC) spokeswoman Gail Gitcho responds: “In a remarkable example of callousness, the White House and Democrats have reduced the concerns and opinions of millions of Americans to ‘manufactured’ and have labeled them as ‘angry extremists,’ for voicing their opposition to President Obama’s government-run health care experiment.… Are Democrats so out of touch that they are shocked to learn that Americans are concerned about their $1.6 trillion government-run health care experiment?” CNN political analyst Bill Schneider observes: “On issues like this, intensity of opinion matters as much as numbers. Opponents of the president’s health care reform seem to feel more intensely about it than Obama’s supporters.” [CNN, 8/5/2009] Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, says he believes the use of intimidation and extreme tactics—including displays of overtly Nazi symbols and hanging representatives in effigy—will “backfire in a big way” because their aim is to keep people from talking about health care. “When you’ve got people shouting and hanging members of Congress in effigy,” he says, “most people are going to react badly to that. I think most people want to have a civil discussion.” Van Hollen says that House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) and other Republican leaders “are actively involved in sort of fueling the fire of these disruptions. They’ve got to be careful what they ask for here.… If Republicans want to continue to ally themselves with these fringe groups, it will continue to discredit them.” National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Ken Spain counters: “Democrats have gone from blaming Republican obstruction, to the insurance industry, to Matt Drudge, and now they are even blaming the voters who are registering their opposition at town halls across the country. At what point are they going to get the message that people simply don’t want a government takeover of health care?” [Roll Call, 8/5/2009]

Entity Tags: Chris Van Hollen, Robert Gibbs, Bill Schneider, Barack Obama, Arlen Specter, Brian Burgess, Obama administration, Republican National Committee, Ken Spain, Democratic National Committee, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Conservatives for Patients Rights, Gail Gitcho, National Republican Congressional Committee, Joseph Biden, John Boehner, Brad Woodhouse

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections

The Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) interviews David Barstow, the New York Times reporter who just published a front-page research article about the “tea party” movement (see February 15, 2010). Barstow says the article was sparked by the raucous, sometimes-violent events of the “town halls” of the summer of 2009 (see July 23, 2009, July 24, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 28, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 2, 2009, August 2, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6-7, 2009, August 6-8, 2009, August 7, 2009, August 8, 2009, August 8, 2009, August 8, 2009, August 8, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 10, 2009, and August 11, 2009).
Joined Tea Party Express Bus Tour, Stayed in Spokane Afterwards - He joined the Tea Party Express bus tour (see August 28, 2009), and covered over 30 tea party rallies in a little over two weeks. Barstow realized, he says, that the Tea Party Express (TPE) was but one of many distinctive tea party organizations. TPE’s goal is to gain seats for Republicans in Congress, and the tour organizers “were not really representative of the tea party movement as a whole, which was very much a grassroots creation that was drawing in lots of newcomers who were extremely concerned about preserving their independence and not being co-opted.” Some tea party organizers agonized over whether to host the TPE tour in their towns. But, Barstow goes on to say, the bus tour itself was incidental to the final story. He was far more interested in the stories of ordinary Americans like Pam Stout, an interview subject who went from being completely uninvolved in politics to becoming president of her local tea party chapter. So many Americans’ lives have been impacted by the recession, Barstow says, and many of those people have turned to their local tea parties to try to get involved in a movement to express their frustrations and perhaps do something about the government that they blame for allowing the economy to fail. The other driving force behind the tea parties, he says, is the members’ overwhelming fear of “impending tyranny.” Most tea partiers fear that American democracy will disappear, perhaps during their own lifetimes, to be replaced by some form of dictatorship or “one-world government” (see February 4-8, 2010). After the TPE bus tour concluded, Barstow stayed in Spokane, Washington, for the month of October 2009, interviewing many tea partiers and affiliated people. He chose the area because of its history of anti-government activism. He says he wanted to cover not just formal tea party organizations, but other groups with connections to the tea parties, including the 9/12 movement (see March 13, 2009 and After), the John Birch Society (JBS—see March 10, 1961 and December 2011), the Campaign for Liberty, and groups with strong ties to white supremacist militia organizations. From time spent in and around Spokane, he learned that the area’s tea parties are quite disparate and factionalized, though “you can make too much of that. If you spend enough time talking to people in the movement, eventually you hear enough of the same kinds of ideas, the same kinds of concerns, and you begin to recognize what the ideology is, what the paradigm is that they’re operating in.… There’s a fear that both parties have been complicit in this giant charade that has done enormous damage to ordinary Americans. It’s very complex, and yet at the same time there is something coherent about it.”
Increasing Militia Influence - Barstow says the influence of far-right, white supremacist militia groups on the tea party organizations in the Northwest and other areas is increasing. Even tea partiers who do not belong to or support militias often accept the idea of militias and civilian paramilitary training (see April 8, 2009, May 8-15, 2009, January 14, 2010, February 2010, July 23, 2010, August 24, 2010, August 24, 2010, and May 5, 2011).
Understanding the Tea Parties - To understand the tea parties, Barstow says, one must read the literature that informs the movement. He recommends reading books such as W. Cleon Skousen’s The 5000-Year Leap, a radical reinterpretation of the US Constitution; Edward Griffin’s The Creature from Jekyll Island, a book purporting to prove the Federal Reserve is a fraudulent institution; and Atlas Shrugged, the novel by Ayn Rand that explicates her “objectivist” social philosophy. Barstow says the tea party movement is informed by “a robust intellectual subculture” that helps shape members’ world views. According to Barstow, the tea parties are not, as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has maintained, becoming the activist conservative wing of the Republican Party (see April 21, 2010), but something more. “They are seeking a bigger transformation than just nudging the Republican Party a little bit to the right,” Barstow says. “A lot of the coverage is about how these people want smaller government and less taxation. That’s true, and yet it doesn’t completely get what’s going on.” [Columbia Journalism Review, 2/18/2010]

Entity Tags: Tea Party Express, Republican Party, W. Cleon Skousen, Newt Gingrich, Campaign for Liberty, Ayn Rand, 9/12 Project, Columbia Journalism Review, David Barstow, Pam Stout, John Birch Society, Edward Griffin

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Author Amity Shlaes is one of 13 people interviewed by the New York Times about their perceptions of the tea party movement.Author Amity Shlaes is one of 13 people interviewed by the New York Times about their perceptions of the tea party movement. [Source: National Review]The New York Times, in light of a recent poll showing American tea party supporters to be whiter, wealthier, and more conservative than average Americans (see April 14, 2010), interviews a number of prominent historians, journalists, and political analysts about their views on the tea party.
Tea Party Very Similar to Anti-Liberal Organizations of Generations Past - Rick Perlstein, the biographer of former president Richard Nixon and former Senator Barry Goldwater (R-AZ), writes of his “frustration” at “watching the rise of the tea party movement,” calling it “ugly” and in opposition to “so many of the values I hold dear.” He notes the “overwhelming historical myopia” of the news media’s coverage of the tea party, saying that the current movement is comprised of “the same angry, ill-informed, overwhelmingly white, crypto-corporate paranoiacs that accompany every ascendancy of liberalism within US government” (see February 4-8, 2010, February 15, 2010, September 2010, and August 17, 2011). Perlstein quotes conservative activist Brent Bozell asking, “When was the last time you saw such a spontaneous eruption of conservative grass-roots anger, coast to coast?” and responds: “The answer, of course, is: in 1993. And 1977. And 1961. And so on. And so yet much of the commentariat takes Bozell at his word, reading what is happening as striking and new.” Perlstein writes that the parallels between the current tea party movement and the previous movements opposing the Roosevelt, Kennedy, Carter, and Clinton administrations “are uncanny.… The only thing that changes is the name of the enemy within.” In 1963, accusations flew that President Kennedy was “in bed” with Cuban dictator Fidel Castro to bring socialism to America; today, the accusations are that the “Muslim terrorist” President Obama wants to bring socialism to America, perhaps with the aid of Islamist terror groups. Perlstein says that in years past, the media was far more unflinching at labeling the reactionaries as “fringe” elements. “[B]ack then, they covered the story with much more moral courage and civic wisdom.” Now, Perlstein writes, the media fawns over tea party leaders and the right-wing commentators who promote them (see August 11, 2009).
'Sullen, Defensive Mobilization' of Wealthier Americans who Fear the Poor - Author Michael Lind, the policy director of the centrist New America Foundation, advises Republicans and Democrats both to “ignore this faux populist base of the GOP and focus instead on the genuine swing voters.” Tea partiers, Lind writes, are not “[p]itchfork-wielding populists,” but are closer to “the affluent members of the Liberty League who vilified President Roosevelt in the 1930s (see August 23, 1934 and After)—a sullen, defensive mobilization of the Have-Somes who dread the Have-Nots. The tea partiers put the ‘petty’ in petty bourgeoisie. They are disgruntled conservative Fox Republicans.”
Tea Parties Focusing on Constitutional Issues - Author Steven F. Hayward, a resident scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, lauds the tea parties as primarily focused on economic and constitutional issues (see May 2010), and more supportive of gay rights, abortion rights, and limited gun restrictions than the media may admit. Hayward writes that he is surprised that most tea partiers are “more economically secure than the general population” and better-educated than the average American: “[T]he narrative that the tea partiers are a bunch of pitchfork populist rubes becomes harder to maintain.” Racism does not permeate the tea parties, Hayward argues (see February 27, 2009, April 2009, July 2009, August 4, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 11, 2009, September 2009, September 14, 2009, October 15, 2009 and After, January 14, 2010, February 2010, March 20, 2010, March 25, 2010, March 26, 2010, May 14, 2010, July 13, 2010, July 14, 2010, July 15, 2010, July 17-18, 2010, August 6, 2010, August 24, 2010, August 24, 2010, September 11, 2010, September 12, 2010, October 10, 2010, October 19, 2010, April 15, 2011, April 16, 2011, May 5, 2011, July 29, 2011 and After, August 22-30, 2011, and December 10, 2011), “though there is some evidence of polarization that is a problem for the tea party as a movement.” Hayward opines that such racism that can be documented in tea party members “is likely an aspect of party politics today.” He also states that tea party supporters do not believe the “birther” conspiracy theory that Obama is not an American citizen any more than the average American, a statement at odds with many other analyses of tea party ideologies (see October 2008, January 8, 2009, June 4, 2009, February 4-8, 2010, February 15, 2010, September 2010, April 13-15, 2011, and July 1-2, 2011), even though the poll shows that only 41 percent of the tea party supporters believe that Obama is a “natural-born citizen.” The driving factor behind so many Americans with no previous history of political involvement is, he writes, the fact that most tea party members “are moderates who are simply shocked by Obama’s great leap forward in the size of government,” and he compares the tea parties to the third-party backers of presidential candidate H. Ross Perot in 1992. He concludes, “The real promise of the tea party movement is that it may lead to a reinvigoration of the idea of constitutional limits on government—an idea liberals may find quaint if not hopelessly obsolete.”
Long-Discredited 'Radical Right' Views Propelling Tea Parties - Author and university professor Alan Wolfe, a self-described liberal, derides the tea parties as little more than a repackaged version of the “radical right” which has long been a part of America’s body politic. The tea party movement, Wolfe writes, has given “American intellectuals whose views have been out of fashion for some time” a new platform with which to express their ideas. The same ideas that drove the McCarthyite “Red scare” of the 1950s are driving the tea parties today, Wolfe writes, and points to the increasing involvement of organizations such as the John Birch Society (JBS—see March 10, 1961) in the tea party movement (see July 22, 2007, August 4, 2008, October 10, 2008, April 13, 2009, April 19, 2010, and August 24, 2010). Like the people who support the JBS both now and in the 1950s, tea partiers are driven “not so much to their economic circumstances as to their status anxieties.” They fear the changing, increasingly diverse and cosmopolitan society around them, and dislike, or sometimes even hate, the seeming “encroachment” of minorities and lower-class Americans on their lives. Wolfe says that the idea that tea party members do not embrace racist values any more than other Americans is specious; their poll responses can be explained, he writes, by noting that “people who respond to them have learned to hide their true feelings.” He concludes: “At the risk of sounding condescending, these people have lost all perspective. They know how to kvetch. They know nothing about what makes their country great. Instead of watching Glenn Beck, I would urge them to learn more about their country’s history—or to go and see a shrink.”
Using Coded Appeals to Race - Law professor Paul Butler writes that while most tea partiers are “more uber-Republicans than Klansmen,” the organizations are very good at using racist “code words” to appeal to racist whites while maintaining plausible deniability about their inherent appeal to racist politics. “The tea party is smart enough not to frame its agenda around white supremacy, but the code words are there,” he writes “[T]he most virulent anti-Obama force in the country is smart enough not to frame its agenda around white supremacy—at least not explicitly.” While most tea partiers were clever enough not to indicate that they were bluntly racist in the poll results, the fact that a strong majority of them “believe that too much has been made of the problems that African-Americans face, and that the administration favors blacks over whites,” is quite telling, Butler writes. “Overwhelmingly they believe that Barack Obama doesn’t share the needs and problems of people like them, or the values of ‘most Americans.’ These code words have been around long enough, everybody gets them.”
Poll Does Not Support Idea that Tea Partiers Embrace Bigotry - Author and columnist Amity Shlaes writes that the poll numbers do not support the “media stereotype” that tea party supporters “are racist or intolerant. The media depicts tea partiers as bigots who look down on minorities, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.” Similarly, she argues, the poll results do not support the idea that tea party supporters believe Obama is a Muslim any more than average Americans do. As the tea party organizers claim, the movement is largely about economics, Shales writes.
Fear of Loss of Control - History professor and author Alan Brinkley calls the tea party “the party of me,” and compares its members demographically to the Americans who supported the McCarthyite “Red scare” inquisitions and the Clinton-era Whitewater investigations—predominantly white males, significantly wealthier than the average American, far more conservative than the mainstream, and fearful of the prospect that conservative white males might not continue to exert control over American society. “[W]hat seems to motivate them the most is a fear of a reduction in their own status—economically and socially,” Brinkley writes. As for their economic worries, he writes, “[T]heir concern is not the state of the economy as a whole, but their own economic conditions.” Brinkley concludes: “The real issue, I believe, is a sense among white males that they are somehow being displaced, that the country is no longer ‘theirs,’ that minorities and immigrants are becoming more and more powerful within society. And, of course, they are right about that. They just fear it more than many other Americans.”
Unrealistic Belief that Government Can Exist without Taxation - Author and former political science professor Lorenzo Morris writes that the tea party’s position on taxes is extremist: “The tea party supporters seem to think that government can exist without taxes.” The American experiment with the Articles of Confederation, which provided no real tax income at all, proves that idea to be wrong, Morris writes, but “[w]ith enough time and historical romanticism, however, bad ideas come back around.” He writes that the current appearance of the tea parties has become less “vitriolic and menacing” than their image from the summer of 2009, when their vociferous and sometimes-violent protesting of health care reform painted them as frightening and bigoted (see July 23, 2009, July 24, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 28, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 2, 2009, August 2, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6-7, 2009, August 6-8, 2009, August 7, 2009, August 8, 2009, August 8, 2009, August 8, 2009, August 8, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 10, 2009, and August 11, 2009). The tea parties have begun to win the approval of right-wing Republican figures, including many of those who intend a presidential run in 2012. But, he concludes, their rigid disapproval of taxes as a concept, and taxation as a reality, means that they will inevitably “repeat the folly of those early Americans who thought there could be government with no taxes.”
Anger without Willingness to Make Real Change - Law professor Susan Estrich notes that the poll indicates a large reservoir of approval for former Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK), the 2008 vice-presidential nominee for the Republican Party, but a strong doubt that she is competent to lead the nation. “Tea party types may be mad,” Estrich writes, “but they aren’t buying President Palin. And if they aren’t, who would?” Estrich goes on to note that tea party supporters, “like most of us… want to have it both ways: they want their Social Security and smaller government, want major cuts but not in Medicare, which is a little like having your cake and eating it, too. If you want to really reduce the size of government, that means cutting defense and entitlements. If you’re not willing to do that, what you get is big talk and no action, which is ultimately a recipe for anger.” She concludes by calling the racial element “lurking in the polls” “troubling.”
Motivated by Racial Concerns - Author and Democratic activist Bob Moser writes of his familiarity with tea parties in Texas, “where the movement has flared up hotter than just about anywhere else,” and his lack of surprise at the demographics: white, conservative, male, and relatively affluent. The concern about the nation’s economic tribulations, and the anger directed at Obama, is understandable, he writes. However, “[w]hat strikes me is how often America’s great and terrible obsession, race, slithers around the poll numbers.” The poll numbers may not directly bear out the racism and bigotry that exists in the ranks of the tea partiers, Moser writes, “[b]ut it’s impossible to shrug off the collective impressions left by the data. Why, exactly, do 73 percent of tea partiers say that the president does not understand ‘the needs and problems of people like yourself’?” The movement works hard to marginalize Americans who disagree with them, particularly Obama, as un-American, not a member of “we the people.” Moser notes that almost three-quarters of the tea party supporters “say that black and white people have an ‘equal’ chance of ‘getting ahead in today’s society.’ If that’s not colorblindness, it’s certainly some kind of blindness.” Moser concludes by writing that the tea party movement is achieving both goals set by “its corporate Republican conjurers,” both “becoming the political expression of a white-resistance movement being spurred by anxieties over the economy, the black ‘socialist’ president, and the coming end of majority-white America… [and] leaning, at least in 2010, strongly Republican in attitude.”
Healthy Expression of Populism - Political analyst David Gergen writes that the perception of the tea parties as angry, bitter, and divisive is untrue. He describes the latest rally he attended as “festive and friendly.” While many protest higher taxes and bigger government, Gergen writes, their claims that opposing Obama does not entail a racist viewpoint are true. “[M]any feel stung by what they see as misrepresentations in the press,” he writes. Gergen compares the 2010 tea partiers to the Ross Perot voters of 1992: “Those who supported Mr. Perot were mostly white, a little better educated than the general population and much more concerned about government deficits than government peeking into bedrooms. They were also more from the West and South but had pockets of support scattered around the country.” He notes that 18 percent of Americans identify themselves as tea party supporters; in 1992, 19 percent of voters cast their votes for Perot. He calls them a healthy expression of American populism and concludes: “Many of these tea partiers are fearful of how the country is changing. Some circles look down upon them; it would be far wiser to listen, understand and find ways to heal.”
Heralding GOP Success for 2010, Problems Farther On - Andrew Kohut, the president of the Pew Research Center and a political polls expert, says the poll numbers “augur well for the Republicans in November’s midterm elections: the politically energized supra conservatives—the 1 in 5 who are universally disaffected with national conditions, and with Barack Obama and with his policies—are likely to be a strong advantage in the midterms, where typically fewer than 4 of 10 eligible citizens vote.” The Republicans’ biggest challenge is to keep the tea party supporters’ votes while simultaneously attracting independents and moderates. And a move by the GOP to the right, to further embrace the tea partiers, “may not bode well for the party in the longer run, given the new primacy of independent voters, a power that was on full display in 2008.” Moreover, the tea parties may well co-opt the GOP, going from “the tail that wags the dog” to becoming “the dog itself.” Kohut writes: “Looking ahead, our polling suggests that the Republican party needs unifying themes and leadership. A tea party-led GOP may not be the prescription for that.”
Economic Concerns Drive Tea Party Success - Political consultant Douglas Schoen says the fact that almost 1 in 5 Americans support the tea party “extraordinary, given that the movement is not active in half of America and that its name recognition is not universal.” Schoen gives no credence to “what appear to be the class-based or race-based attitudes of the tea party movement,” and writes that the movement is instead propelled by economic concerns. Schoen says that statistics aside, he believes the tea party movement to be far more diverse than the polls indicate (see September 2010). Almost half its supporters identify themselves as non-Republicans, and a quarter of them claim to have voted for Obama in 2008, he says. [New York Times, 4/15/2010]

Entity Tags: Bob Moser, Barack Obama, Amity Shlaes, Alan Wolfe, Alan Brinkley, Susan Estrich, Andrew Kohut, Steven F. Hayward, Paul Butler, Michael Lind, Douglas Schoen, Lorenzo Morris, Brent Bozell, David Gergen, Rick Perlstein, New York Times

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

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