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Context of 'August 13, 2009: Health Insurer Urges Employees to Protest Health Care Reform, Provides Information to Use in Protesting'

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Lewin Group logo.Lewin Group logo. [Source: WNY Media]The Republican National Committee plans to spend a million dollars in August on television ads opposing health care reform. One of the key elements of the ad campaign is a study released today by the Lewin Group that finds 119 million Americans would lose the coverage they currently have under the Obama administration’s health care reform proposal. MSNBC’s progressive talk show host Rachel Maddow airs video clips of Senators John Barrasso (R-WY) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Representatives John Boehner (R-OH), Tom Price (R-GA), Paul Ryan (R-WI), and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) all citing the Lewin study as evidence that health care reform is bad for Americans. The Lewin Group is a subsidiary of UnitedHealth Group, a health insurance provider. United Health operates a subsidiary called Ingenix, which in turn operates a consulting firm, the Lewin Group. Maddow notes that Republicans call the Lewin Group “nonpartisan and independent” when in fact it is a branch of a health care insurer. In January 2009, United Health agreed to pay $400 million to the State of New York after being charged with defrauding customers—manipulating data in order to shift medical expenses onto consumers. Former Vermont governor and Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean, himself a doctor, says the issue is “not… about Democrats versus Republicans. This is about the health insurance agency versus the American people.” [Ingenix, 7/27/2009; MSNBC, 7/28/2009]

Entity Tags: Republican National Committee, Tom Price, UnitedHealth Group, Rachel Maddow, Lewin Group, Obama administration, Paul Ryan, Ingenix, John Boehner, Howard Dean, MSNBC, Newt Gingrich, Charles Grassley, John Barrasso

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

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) says of the corporate-led resistance to health care reform (see April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, July 27, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, Before August 6, 2009, and August 6-7, 2009): “Insurance companies are out there in full force, carpet bombing, shock and awe against the public option. These are initiatives that are very important in this legislation, and they are to correct what the insurance companies have done to America and to the health of our people over the years.” Afterwards, Pelosi is equally blunt, telling reporters: “It is somewhat immoral what they are doing. Of course, they have been immoral all along how they have treated the people they insure. They are the villains in this. They have been part of the problem in a major way. The public has to know that.” [MSNBC, 7/31/2009]

Entity Tags: Nancy Pelosi

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

The lobbying group America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), funded by nearly 1,300 health care providers and other medical companies, urges its members’ employees to, in AHIP’s words, “GO TO TOWN MEETINGS WITH MEMBERS OF CONGRESS IN AUGUST TO CONFRONT THEM on House Democrats’ top recess message—that health reform legislation is ‘health insurance reform to hold insurance companies accountable’” (all caps from the source). AHIP plans on releasing negative television ads opposing the Obama administration’s health care reform proposals. According to AHIP spokesman Robert Zirkelbach: “The American people want Washington to focus on solutions, not the same old divisive political rhetoric that hasn’t worked in the past. Our industry has offered to completely transform how health insurance is provided today. We have stepped up to do our part to make health care reform a reality. That’s an INCONVENIENT FACT that some people have chosen to ignore. These attacks are politically motivated, and they ignore the significant commitment that our industry has made to the health reform process. WE’RE GOING TO BE VERY ACTIVE. We have people on the ground in more than 30 states. There are thousands of industry employees WHO HAVE NOW HAD THEIR INTEGRITY CALLED INTO QUESTION. They want to have their voices heard as part of this. We have contacted all of our member companies and encouraged them to get involved. August is a great time because of the face-to-face interaction with members.” [Campaign for an American Solution, 8/2/2009]

Entity Tags: Robert Zirkelbach, America’s Health Insurance Plans

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

Progressive columnist Eugene Robinson, an associate editor for the Washington Post, calls the efforts by anti-health care reform protesters to disrupt and block debate “shocking.” Robinson tells interviewer Rachel Maddow: “This seems extreme, extraordinary—you could almost say shocking. It’s hard to be shocked in politics, but this is so clearly an organized campaign of intimidation, of theater. I mean, it’s not theater in ‘all the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players’ metaphorical sense, but theater in a, you know, ‘let’s put on a show’ kind of sense to, not just to shout down any individual congressman or congresswoman who happens to be holding a town meeting, but to create this videotape that gets posted on Web sites, that gets on television that creates this sort of atmosphere of health reform—the very idea of health reform being on the defensive. [T]his is something that strikes me as particularly noxious and out of bounds.” Robinson says that the original anti-tax, anti-Obama “tea parties” had little effect, partly because they were not focused on a single issue. Now that the “tea party” organizers have focused their groups on opposing health care, they are much more effective, Robinson says. “[T]here’s a definite aim here, which is to stop in its tracks the most serious attempt at actual health care reform that could make a difference in millions of people’s lives and also make a difference to the bottom lines of insurance companies and others that make money off the health care industry as it is.… [T]his is a tactic that’s sort of almost mob intimidation at these meetings—you never know where they’re going to pop up, when they’re going to pop up—that I don’t think anyone quite knows how to respond to at this point. I mean, do you bring in your own side to shout down the shouters down? Do you bring in the… police to enforce the disorderly conduct laws? I’m not quite sure what you do.” Maddow wonders if there may not be a political cost to the conservatives over “being associated with this kind of raw thuggishness,” and continues: “I’m all in favor of rabble rousers and people even being disruptive and using their First Amendment rights, even if it is an untoward, unfriendly way. But when it is part of a corporate strategy organized by lobbyists who are sort of astroturfed (see April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, July 27, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, Before August 6, 2009, and August 6-7, 2009), do they ultimately get in trouble when that is exposed?” Robinson says while that may well be the case, in the short term pro-reform advocates “have to find a way to go on the offense in this debate and not be caught on the defensive—and there is a sense that this new tactic has put health care reformers on the defensive or at least wondering exactly how to respond.” [MSNBC, 8/4/2009]

Entity Tags: Eugene Robinson, Rachel Maddow

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

Representative Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) appears on an MSNBC talk show hosted by progressive Rachel Maddow. Three days before, Doggett was accosted in a Texas grocery store by an angry, shouting mob of anti-health care reform protesters (see August 1, 2009). Doggett says opposition such as this just bolsters his commitment to battle for reform. He says that the anti-reform protests are “staged” (see April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, July 27, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, Before August 6, 2009, and August 6-7, 2009). “[M]y real complaint is not their cameras or their taunts or their silly signs saying I was a traitor to Texas and a devil to all people—my complaint is that when other neighbors show up, they should not be silenced. And that’s what this crowd did. After I listened to their taunts and questions and discussed the bill with them for an hour, they insisted on yelling, ‘just say no,’ any time anyone else wanted to speak.”
Countering the Anti-Reform Protesters - Doggett says that pro-reform advocates need to counter the anti-reform protesters: “[P]eople need to not sit back and think that President Obama and a Democratic Congress can solve all of these problems. They have to be engaged and involved. We cannot turn over the agenda to folks that really remind me, Rachel, like that crowd of Republican staffers that showed up for Bush against Gore down in Florida. It’s the same kind of approach.” Maddow reminds viewers that Doggett is referring to the “Brooks Brothers” mob riot from the 2000 presidential recounts in Florida, where the “spontaneous” riot was created by Republican aides and operatives brought down from Washington. She notes that House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) and the National Republican Congressional Committee “have sent out the footage of what was done to you at this town hall meeting. They’re bragging about it. They’re publicizing it. They’re implicitly calling for more of this sort of thing.” Doggett says of his Republican colleagues: “No, nothing surprises me about these people. They’ll do anything they can to block health care reform just as they have for six decades.… [The protesters are inflating their numbers] because they’re under-numbered at the people that have been being abused by the health insurers come out [sic] and tell their story.” Doggett gives his fellow Democrats the folliwing advice: “Don’t give up or give in. This is too important. We have few more important issues in America today, and we need to be steadfast in our commitment to learn from those who have legitimate concerns and criticisms. But there’s no way you can rewrite this bill to satisfy this mob. We need to be firm and committed to a strong, public plan that will give that nudge to the insurers.”
Obama 'Judo' - After Doggett’s interview is completed, Maddow interviews Chris Hayes, an editor for The Nation magazine, who adds to Doggett’s statements by saying he believes the Obama administration and the Democratic Party are trying to use the excesses of the anti-reform rhetoric against reform opponents. Maddow says: “I think the lesson that the Obama folks took from the—this past year’s presidential campaign, where they didn’t try to organize people to go to McCain-Palin rallies, to shout down the ‘kill them all’ rhetoric that they were hearing from their crowds.… They publicized it, essentially… they used those displays of extremism to try to splinter the people who were on the right… who were either tolerating that stuff or denouncing it.” Hayes says he believes the same thing is beginning to happen now. “I mean, this is sort of signature Obama political strategy, which is a kind of judo, right? To kind of use the excesses of your enemy against them. And I think that you’re already seeing that DNC [Democratic National Committee] and other people sending the message out showing the signs of swastikas that are showing up at these rallies. The images of Stalin, the screaming, the sort of red-face spittle-flecked anger that is coming out in these town halls to show that, look, this is isn’t just, you know, some kind of middle-of-the-road, undecided independent voter who’s having some reservations about the possible cost of the health care bill. These are radicals. These are extremists. These are zealots.… They should just be called out for what they are.” [MSNBC, 8/5/2009]

Entity Tags: National Republican Congressional Committee, Barack Obama, Chris Hayes, Democratic National Committee, Rachel Maddow, John Boehner, Lloyd Doggett

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

Salisbury Post masthead.Salisbury Post masthead. [Source: Echo Media]An op-ed in the Salisbury (North Carolina) Post criticizes the current wave of disruptive protests that are derailing health care forums around the nation (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, August 4, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, and August 5, 2009). “With funding and staff support from advocacy groups opposed to health care reform and to the Obama administration,” the Post writes, “organized groups have been showing up at Congressional town hall meetings held mostly by Democrats in favor of health care reform. The protesters jeer, heckle, wave placards, shout over the speaker, and carry on much like the student radicals of yore. Memos that have cropped up on the Web show that these protests are not intended to be any kind of dialogue but purely disruptive, preferably ending with the member of Congress forced to retreat. Videos of the demonstrations almost immediately appear on the Internet. The idea is to make opposition to health care reform seem more widespread than it really is.… [I]t is impossible to dismiss the large quotient of manufactured outrage in these disruptions. The campaign smacks of what political operatives call ‘Astroturf’—fake grass roots” (see April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, July 27, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, Before August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, and August 6-7, 2009). [Salisbury Post, 8/5/2009]

Entity Tags: Salisbury Post, Obama administration

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda

Tim Phillips (r) being interviewed by Rachel Maddow (l).Tim Phillips (r) being interviewed by Rachel Maddow (l). [Source: YouTube]Tim Phillips, the president of the corporate lobbying firm Americans for Prosperity (AFP), is interviewed by progressive MSNBC host Rachel Maddow. AFP, like FreedomWorks, Conservatives for Patients Rights (CPR), and other organizations, is responsible for what Maddow calls “astroturfing” the health care reform debate—creating “fake grassroots organizations” such as Patients First and Patients United Now that purport to represent ordinary citizens, but are in fact entities created and controlled by corporate and/or political interests (see April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, July 27, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, Before August 6, 2009, and August 6-7, 2009).
Representing 'Real Folks' - Phillips is jovial with Maddow, insisting that AFP merely represents the interests of “real folks.” When asked who funds AFP’s “grassroots” offshoot, Patients First, instead of answering, Phillips tells Maddow that the organization is made up of patients “just like us. I’m a patient. Rachel, you’re a parent. So I think we’re all patients in this issue. And we all have something at stake here.” Phillips even denies being a Washington lobbyist, but instead calls himself “a community organizer” similar to the position once held by President Obama. “What do you think about that?” he asks. “Maybe I’m qualified to be president.” He finally claims that AFP is funded by citizen donors, though he admits that the bulk of its money comes from foundations such as the Koch Industries Foundations, the grant-giving arm of Koch Industries, the largest privately held oil company in the US. Maddow says, “[I]t seems odd to just call yourself patients like us when you’re a huge recipient of funding from a big company, and you’re trying to distinguish yourself from lobbyists and big companies.” Phillips in turn says that to label groups like AFP anything but citizen organizations is “demeaning” to the ordinary citizens who turn out at the rallies and forums. Maddow responds: “I’m not calling anybody, any individual American, a front group. I’m calling Americans for Prosperity’s subgroups a front group for the corporate interest that funds you, guys. Honestly, I mean, that’s the allegation that we’re making here.”
'We Would Love to Have More Corporate Funding' - Phillips says: “[C]orporate interests are a minuscule part of our funding.… And by the way, we would love to have more corporate funding. So if there’s more corporations watching us, feel free to give to us. We’ll be happy to have their support as well. We will get the message out on this health care issue.” He denies ever taking money from Exxon, but says AFP would be more than happy to accept Exxon and other such funding. Maddow notes that Exxon has listed AFP as a recipient of large amounts of money, and Phillips qualifies his statement: “This year, we haven’t had any Exxon money.… But again, though, we’re happy to take corporate money.” Maddow says that she isn’t sure the protesters showing up at the town halls at the behest of AFP know that the organization is funded by oil and health care corporations.
'Gotcha Politics' - After Maddow notes Phillips’s involvement with several Republican political and lobbying campaigns, Phillips accuses her of playing “gotcha politics.” Maddow retorts that Americans “want to know who the players are in this fight and who’s organizing what are being maintained as if they’re just spontaneous efforts happening organically by Americans who are angry and they’re aren’t being coordinated by industry and by lobbyists and by political campaign groups associated with the Republican Party. And that’s why I want to talk about who you are, because you have such an important role in coordinating these events and I think the American people are curious.” In his turn, Phillips says that it is “gotcha politics” that is helping the anti-reform movement win the issue. Before Maddow ends the interview, Phillips invites her to join AFP on the bus tour “as my guest to see these real Americans. Would you do that?” Maddow replies, “I can’t bear the conflict of interest with your corporate funders.” [MSNBC, 8/7/2009]

Entity Tags: Koch Industries Foundations, Conservatives for Patients Rights, Americans for Prosperity, ExxonMobil, Koch Industries, Republican Party, FreedomWorks, Patients United Now, Patients First, Tim Phillips, Rachel Maddow

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda

60+ logo.60+ logo. [Source: 60 Plus Association]An anti-health care reform television ad designed to frighten seniors into believing that so-called “death panels” will have government officials choosing to terminate them (see August 7, 2009, August 10, 2009, and August 10, 2009) is produced by a supposedly “non-partisan seniors advocacy group.” However, in fact the group is led, organized, and funded by senior Republican operatives. The ad says in part that health care reform will, for seniors, “mean long waits for care, cuts to MRIs, CAT Scans, and other vital tests. Seniors may lose their own doctors. The government, not doctors, will decide if older patients are worth the cost.” The organization that produced and released the ad is called the “60 Plus Association,” or “60+,” a registered non-profit organization that claims to be non-partisan. The president of 60+ is Jim Martin, a former official for the National Conservative Action Committee and another group, Americans Against Union Control of Government. The honorary chairman of 60+ is Roger Zion, a former Illinois Republican congressman whom the group’s site calls “one of Washington’s leading spokesman for the conservative cause.” When 60+ began running ads against prescription drug reform a few years ago, the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) discovered that, in the organization’s words, “virtually all of their largest contributions in recent years have come from the same source—the nation’s pharmaceutical industry.” John Rother of AARP will confirm that 60+ is “funded primarily by corporate interests, especially pharmaceuticals.” Speaking to MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, he says that 60+ and other anti-reform groups are specifically targeting seniors. “I don’t think you can look at those commercials and not conclude that seniors are the target of a very intentional scare campaign,” he says. “And many seniors, of course, are worried about change because they depend on Medicare. They are perhaps not in the greatest of health, and they definitely want to know that Medicare will be there, their doctor will be there when they need it. So, change can be a little scary.… It certainly makes me angry because, you know, there are real issues and people should be engaged in this debate. But to scare people, to raise these bogus issues, to intentionally mislead a big part of the population is—you know, it’s a subversion of democracy.” Rother adds: “[W]e’ve looked at this bill and we read every page, we’ve concluded that the bills proposed in the Congress would be good for seniors, would actually help them afford their medications better, make sure that doctors are there when they need them. So, we feel there’s nothing to be scared about in the actual legislation.” In 2003, the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer paid 60+ to organize opposition against prescription drug reform in Minnesota and New Mexico. 60+ in turn hired a PR firm, Bonner & Associates, which according to the AARP “specializes in ‘Astroturf lobbying’” (see April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, July 27, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, Before August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, and August 6-7, 2009). Bonner paid employees to call residents of those states and, identifying themselves as volunteers for 60+, urge them to oppose the legislation. 60+ also has ties to former Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who directed Native American tribes to donate to 60+ in return for Republican support in Congress. 60+ has also lobbied in favor of approving the storage of nuclear waste at the infamous Yucca Mountain, Nevada, storage site. Maddow says: “[T]he campaign against health care reform in this country is being brought to you by professional, corporate-funded, Republican-staffed political PR operations. In this case, an organization that promotes itself as non-partisan but appears to be anything but. These are professional PR operatives that are scaring real Americans with increasingly paranoid and kooky lies about health care. And they’re getting rich in the process, thanks to the largess of extremely interested parties who are more than willing to pay for their services.” [MSNBC, 8/11/2009; MSNBC, 8/12/2009]

Entity Tags: John Rother, 60 Plus Association, American Association of Retired Persons, Jim Martin, Roger Zion, Rachel Maddow

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

The progressive news Web site AlterNet publishes an analysis of how health insurance and medical industry firms use so-called “Astroturf” organizations (see April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, July 27, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, Before August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, and August 6-7, 2009) to work against health care reform. One firm investigated is the Medicines Company, a small pharmaceutical firm, which has hired the Washington lobbying firm DLA Piper to promote its interests, including fighting health care reform. Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX) is a senior policy adviser for DLA Piper, and heads the “grassroots” organization FreedomWorks, which apparently conducts protests and advocacy for the interests of DLA Piper’s clients (see April 14, 2009). The AlterNet analysis, by Adele M. Stan, accuses Armey of having a conflict of interest in his dual roles as lobbyist and “grassroots” organizer. The Medicines Company’s contract with DLA Piper comprises 15 percent of that firm’s business. (The Medicines Company will later claim that it does not contract with any lobbying firms to influence anyone’s position on health care legislation.) Other “Astroturf” organizations such as Grassfire.org and its subsidiary, ResistNet, are also involved in combating reform. ResistNet bills itself as “[t]he online community for patriotic citizens who are opposing the Obama-led socialist agenda.” The home page of ResistNet’s Web site features a video entitled “Obama Equals Hitler.” ResistNet is run by Grassfire, which says it funds ResistNet as part of “our overall patriotic resistance efforts.” Stan expands her analysis to include media mogul Rupert Murdoch, whose NewsCorp owns Fox News. NewsCorp invests heavily in health industry firms, and, according to Stan, would profit by keeping reform from becoming law. Stan notes that one of Murdoch’s key hires was radio and former CNN host Glenn Beck. Beck was hired, Stan claims, to host a Fox News show and to organize a group called the 9/12 Project. Beck’s 9/12 Project, which, like Grassfire and ResistNet, serves as a “social networking” tool to bring together reform opponents, has been involved in a number of raucous anti-reform protests (see June 30, 2009 and August 6, 2009). Stan says the combination of these elements, along with what she calls “an oppressed-white-people narrative that has its roots in the origins of what used to be called the New Right,” has created the “perfect storm” of converging trends to create a chaotic and confrontational season for anti-reform protests and lobbyists. [AlterNet (.org), 8/10/2009; MSNBC, 8/14/2009]

Entity Tags: ResistNet, News Corporation, Rupert Murdoch, Medicines Company, FreedomWorks, Glenn Beck, AlterNet (.org), Adele M. Stan, 9/12 Project, DLA Piper, Grassfire (.org), Dick Armey, Fox News

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

Top “tea party” and other conservative organizers, taking part in a private conference call, discuss their primary goal for health care reform: blocking any kind of compromise entirely, and ensuring that no health care reform package of any kind is passed. An AFL-CIO organizer manages to get involved in the call, and his notes are provided to, first, the union itself, and then to the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent. The call consists of representatives of powerful lobbying and “grassroots” organizations (see April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, July 27, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, Before August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, and August 6-7, 2009) such as the American Liberty Alliance, the “Tea Party Patriots,” and RecessRally.com (see August 5, 2009). [Plum Line, 8/11/2009] The conference call is sponsored by the “Tea Party Patriots,” which labels itself the “official grassroots American movement.” The group is sponsored and organized by, among other organizations, FreedomWorks (see April 14, 2009). When the “Tea Party Patriots” organized a trip to Washington in July, FreedomWorks provided the members with prepared packets of information and briefed them on how a visit to Capitol Hill works. [MSNBC, 8/12/2009] Sargent writes: “It’s certain to be seized on by [Democrats] to argue that organized tea party opposition to [President] Obama has no constructive intentions and is fomenting public ‘concern’ about Obama’s plan solely to prevent any reform from ever taking place. GOP officials would argue that they don’t share these goals.” The moderator on the call tells participants that bipartisan compromise on the Senate Finance Committee, where senators are holding talks, must be stopped at all costs. Organizers are told to pressure Republican senators seen as likely to compromise with Senate Democrats, including Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Mike Enzi (R-WY), and Olympia Snowe (R-ME), to stop the negotiating. “The goal is not compromise, and any bill coming out this year would be a failure for us,” the moderator says. He adds that “the Democrats will turn even a weak bill from the Senate Finance Committee into Canadian-style single-payer through underhanded implementation.” Single-payer, or a system of government-only health care, is not in any versions of the legislation in either house of Congress. Another organizer says, “The purpose of tea parties is not to find a solution to the health care crisis—it is to stop what is not the solution: Obamacare.” A spokeswoman for the American Liberty Alliance later acknowledges that comments like the ones noted by the AFL-CIO source were likely made, and that the organization’s specific goal is to prevent the current legislation in Congress from becoming law. No audio of the call exists, she claims. A “tea party” organizer later denies that his organization has any intention of “politically ‘accepting’ or denying legislation.” [Plum Line, 8/11/2009]

Entity Tags: Greg Sargent, American Liberty Alliance, AFL-CIO, Barack Obama, FreedomWorks, Senate Finance Committee, Charles Grassley, Olympia Snowe, Mike Enzi, Tea Party Patriots, Recess Rally

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda

Wendell Potter, a former health insurance executive with CIGNA who has now become a whistleblower against the industry (see July 10, 2009 and August 10, 2009), says that the raucous and contentious protests at health care “town halls” are the result of what he calls “covert,” or “stealth” efforts by health insurance companies. Potter says he lacks the specifics for the current campaign, but he witnessed and actually took part in similar efforts in earlier years. This year’s efforts follow similar patterns to the ones he was familiar with, he says. “The industry is up to the same dirty tricks this year,” Potter says after meeting with House Rules Committee Chairwoman Louise Slaughter (D-NY), who supports the Democrats’ health care reform initiative. “When you hear someone complaining about traveling down a ‘slippery slope to socialism,’ some insurance flack, like I used to be, wrote that,” Potter says. He notes that during his 20 years in the industry, he watched—and participated in—the industry’s funneling money to large public firms who would create “Astroturf,” or fake grassroots, organizations (see April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, July 27, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, Before August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6-7, 2009, and August 10, 2009) and use friendly conservative media voices. Slaughter says, “[T]he notion that this is going to be something devilish comes from the people who would lose money on it.” [The Hill, 8/12/2009]

Entity Tags: Wendell Potter, Louise Slaughter

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda

UnitedHealth Group (UHG), the nation’s second largest health insurer, sends a letter to its employees urging them to become involved in protesting health care reform. UHG asks its employees to call its “United for Health Reform Advocacy Hotline” to learn about ways they can engage in protesting health care reform, and specifically the so-called “public option.” Some of their options include getting hotline help in writing “personalized” letters to lawmakers, receiving “talking points” designed to refute the arguments for the public option during town halls meetings and forums, and receiving an events list hosted by the conservative “America’s Independent Party.” [Group, 8/13/2009; TPMDC, 8/19/2009]

Entity Tags: UnitedHealth Group, America’s Independent Party

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda

John Stossel.John Stossel. [Source: Nashville Scene]The lobbying firm Americans for Prosperity (AFP), which is heavily involved in so-called “Astroturf” protests against health care reform (see April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, July 27, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, Before August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6-7, 2009, August 10, 2009, and August 12, 2009), announces it will hold three town-hall style meetings in Wisconsin on August 26 and 27. The meetings will take place in the districts of three House members, David Obey (D-WI), Ron Kind (D-WI), and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), all of whom AFP feels might be open to pressure. ABC reporter John Stossel will moderate the sessions for AFP. [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 8/14/2009] Progressive news watchdog Web site Media Matters questions the propriety of Stossel, a supposedly nonpartisan member of the media, moderating the sessions for AFP, an avowedly partisan organization. [Media Matters, 8/17/2009]

Entity Tags: Ron Kind, Americans for Prosperity, David Obey, Tammy Baldwin, John Stossel, Media Matters

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda

BlueCross BlueShield logo.BlueCross BlueShield logo. [Source: TopNews (.us)]Health insurers have mobilized tens of thousands of employees to fight against the Democrats’ health care reform initiative, according to reports by the Los Angeles Times and the Wall Street Journal. The insurance industry’s primary motive seems to be financial gain, according to the Times reporters. Many of the nation’s largest insurers, including UnitedHealth, have urged their employees to become involved in protesting health care reform, and provided advocacy “hot line” telephone numbers, printed “talking points,” sample “letters to the editor,” and other materials in almost every Congressional district throughout the nation. And many insurers, including BlueCross Blue Shield, have sponsored anti-reform television ads targeting conservative “Blue Dog” Democrats, many of whom are considered vulnerable to pressure from the industry. The insurance industry is paying for over 900 lobbyists, spending $35 million in the first half of 2009 lobbying Congress and the White House. AFL-CIO spokesman Gerald Shea says: “They have beaten us six ways to Sunday. Any time we want to make a small change to provide cost relief, they find a way to make it more profitable.” [Los Angeles Times, 8/24/2009; Wall Street Journal, 8/24/2009]
Jamming the 'Town Halls' - Insurers like UnitedHealth and others are sending their employees to “town hall” meetings to protest against reform. The Journal reports, “[T]he industry employees come armed with talking points about the need for bipartisan legislation and the unintended consequences of a government-run health plan to compete with private insurers.” But they are instructed not to become contentious and argumentative, according to a “Town Hall Tips” memo provided by the industry’s chief lobbying organization, America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP—see Before August 6, 2009). The memo warns those attending the meetings to expect criticism, and to stay calm. “It is important not to take the bait,” the memo cautions. AHIP president Karen Ignagni says the town hall meetings are an opportunity “to strongly push back against charges that we have very high profits. It’s very important that our men and women… calmly provide the facts and for members of Congress to hear what these people do every day.” Larry Loew, who works for the insurance administration firm Cornerstone Group, says he attended a recent town hall meeting hosted by Representative Alan Mollohan (D-WV) because “my whole industry is being threatened.” Loew claims he was not coached by AHIP, but admits to preparing for the meeting by gathering talking points from hospital and insurance company Web sites. AHIP spokesman Robert Zirkelbach says about 50,000 employees have been engaged in writing letters and making phone calls to politicians or attending town hall meetings. [Wall Street Journal, 8/24/2009]
'Hallelujah!' - One industry proposal that is gaining traction among some in Congress is the so-called “individual mandate,” which would require all citizens to buy some form of health insurance. That provision would guarantee insurers tens of millions of new customers—many of which would receive government subsidies to help pay the premiums. Robert Laszewski, a former health insurance executive who now heads the consulting firm Health Policy and Strategy Associates, says of the provision, “It’s a bonanza.” The industry’s reaction to early negotiations can, Laszewski says, be summed up in a single word: “Hallelujah!” Linda Blumberg, a health policy analyst at the nonpartisan Urban Institute, says, “The insurers are going to do quite well” with health care reform. “They are going to have this very stable pool, they’re going to have people getting subsidies to help them buy coverage, and… they will be paid the full costs of the benefits that they provide—plus their administrative costs.” Aetna’s chief executive, Ron Williams, says: “We have to get everyone into the insurance market. That is a huge, big deal [and] everyone has coalesced around that.” [Los Angeles Times, 8/24/2009; Wall Street Journal, 8/24/2009]
Battling the Public Option, - Insurers have fought most strongly against the so-called “public option,” which would create a government-run, non-profit alternative to private health insurance. Some polls are showing public support for the public option has declined, and stock prices for the insurance corporations have tracked upwards. Other insurance industry proposals are gaining ground. The Senate Finance Committee is considering a proposal to lower the proposed mandatory reimbursement rate for insurers to policyholders from 76 percent to 65 percent, and the industry is pressuring Congress to lower the limit that insurers must meet to cover a policyholder’s medical bills, leaving more of the money it gleans from premiums as profits. “These are a bad deal for consumers,” says J. Robert Hunter, a former Texas insurance commissioner who works with the Consumer Federation of America. Insurance companies would reap huge profits by providing less insurance “per premium dollar,” he says. Former Cigna executive Wendell Potter says, “It would be quite a windfall” for the insurance industry. [Los Angeles Times, 8/24/2009]

Entity Tags: Consumer Federation of America, UnitedHealth Group, Urban Institute, Wall Street Journal, BlueCross Blue Shield, Alan Mollohan, Senate Finance Committee, AFL-CIO, Aetna, America’s Health Insurance Plans, Wendell Potter, Robert Laszewski, Health Policy and Strategy Associates, Gerald Shea, Cornerstone Group, J. Robert Hunter, Robert Zirkelbach, Ron Williams, Linda Blumberg, Karen Ignagni, Larry Loew, Los Angeles Times

Timeline Tags: US Health Care

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

Mother Jones columnist Kevin Drum compares the “tea party” movement to earlier organizations, each formed, he writes, to oppose Democratic presidencies. “[T]oo many observers mistakenly react to the tea party as if it’s brand new, an organic and spontaneous response to something unique in the current political climate,” he writes. “But it’s not. It’s not a response to the recession or to health care reform or to some kind of spectacular new liberal overreach. It’s what happens whenever a Democrat takes over the White House. When FDR was in office in the 1930s, conservative zealotry coalesced in the Liberty League (see August 23, 1934 and After). When JFK won the presidency in the ‘60s, the John Birch Society flourished (see November 1963). When Bill Clinton ended the Reagan Revolution in the ‘90s, talk radio erupted with the conspiracy theories of the Arkansas Project. And today, with Barack Obama in the Oval Office, it’s the tea party’s turn.” While differences between the various groups are substantive, Drum writes, the similarities are overwhelming. Drum notes that industrialist Fred Koch, an early backer of the Birchers (see 1940 and After), gave way to his sons, David and Charles Koch, who helped launch the organization that would become FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity, both of which are major funders and organizers of the tea party movement (see 1979-1980 and 1984 and After). Tea partiers rely on a 50-year-old radical reinterpretation of the Constitution, W. Cleon Skousen’s The 5000 Year Leap; Skousen’s anti-Communist polemics were popular with the Birchers. And Robert Welch, the founder of the John Birch Society (JBS—see March 10, 1961 and December 2011), believed that the 17th Amendment, which affirms the direct election of US senators, was what Drum calls “a poisonous concentration of power in the federal government.” Tea partiers and Fox News hosts hawk this same theory today (see October 16, 2009, April 8, 2010, and June 11, 2010). Drum writes that, far from being motivated by personal economic hardship (tea party supporters tend to be more affluent and less affected by the economic downturn than the average American—see April 14, 2010) or even because of a dislike of President Obama because of his race, the tea party exists because “[e]ver since the 1930s, something very much like the tea party movement has fluoresced every time a Democrat wins the presidency, and the nature of the fluorescence always follows many of the same broad contours: a reverence for the Constitution, a supposedly spontaneous uprising of formerly nonpolitical middle-class activists, a preoccupation with socialism and the expanding tyranny of big government, a bitterness toward an underclass viewed as unwilling to work, and a weakness for outlandish conspiracy theories.”
Constitutional 'Purity' - One similarity is the focus of each group on what they term the “purity” or “sanctity” of the US Constitution, even as they apply their sometimes-radical reinterpretations of constitutional mandates. “The Liberty Leaguers… spoke of it with ‘worshipful intensity,’” Drum writes. “The John Birch Society—which is enjoying a renaissance of sorts today (see July 22, 2007, August 4, 2008, October 10, 2008, April 13, 2009, April 19, 2010, and August 24, 2010)—says of itself, ‘From its earliest days the John Birch Society has emphasized the importance of the Constitution for securing our freedom.’ And… study groups dedicated to the Constitution have mushroomed among tea partiers” (see May 2010).
Fear of 'Creeping Socialism' and Tyranny - Drum writes: “Other shared tropes include a fear of ‘losing the country we grew up in,’ an obsession with ‘parasites’ who are leeching off of hardworking Americans, and—even though they’ve always received copious assistance from business interests and political operatives—a myth that the movement is composed entirely of fed-up grassroots amateurs” (see 1984 and After, Late 2004, January 2009 and After, February 17, 2009, February 19, 2009 and After, March 13, 2009 and After, April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, July 27, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, July 3-4, 2010, and August 30, 2010). Above all, though, is the recurring theme of “creeping socialism and a federal government that’s destroying our freedoms.” The American Liberty League fought to stop the Roosevelt administration from establishing Social Security, the Works Progress Administration (WPA), and what Drum calls an “alphabet soup of new regulatory agencies.” In the 1960s, the John Birch Society (JBS) felt the government was being overrun by Communism and “collectivism.” Drum notes that JBS founder Robert Welch’s mantra, “Less government and more responsibility,” echoes central tenets of tea party beliefs. In the 1990s, then-Representative Newt Gingrich (R-GA) became House Speaker in large part because of his opposition to the Clinton administration and his leadership in the right’s battle to defund federal social-net programs. Today, tea partiers echo the JBS in their insistence that Obama is a closet Marxist or socialist, and echo fears from earlier groups that Obama, the Democrat, intends to turn American democracy into a tyranny.
Conspiracy Theories - Drum echoes conservative writer Jonathan Kay by noting the tea partiers’ “insatiable appetite for conspiracy theories” (see February 4-8, 2010). Welch argued that the federal government was bowing to Communist manipulation by fluoridating the water supply (see 1945 and After), but more importantly, promoted the idea that a mysterious group of “insiders” had been running the world since at least 1776, when the Illuminati took over most European governments. The “insiders” continued their influence, Welch avowed, through the years, taking over France after the French Revolution, Russia and other nations after the advent of Communism, and continued to exercise control through such organs as the United Nations, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the Trilateral Commission. The same groups are at the center of many conspiracy theories embraced by numerous tea partiers. Drum points out the fondness of the “anti-Clinton zealots” for their “colorful and ever-growing bestiary of shadowy plots,” most surrounding their belief that Clinton was a rapist, a murderer, and a drug peddler. Similar conspiracy theories were promulgated by the JBS about John Kennedy. “Today’s conspiracy theories are different in detail but no less wacky—and no less widespread,” Drum writes. The “birther” conspiracy theory, which holds that Obama is not a natural-born citizen, is quite popular with tea party supporters, and many more believe that Obama intends to place conservatives such as themselves in internment camps, a theory peddled by the JBS in the early 1960s. And many believe that ACORN (the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now), the now-defunct community service organization, somehow took control of the Democratic Party, destroyed banks by forcing them to make loans to indigent minorities, crashed the economy, and installed Obama into power.
Effectiveness Improving over Time - Drum writes that each iteration of this right-wing phenomenon is more successful than the last. The Liberty League made no impact whatsoever on President Roosevelt’s 1936 re-election attempt. In 1964, the JBS succeeded in helping right-wing libertarian candidate Barry Goldwater (R-AZ) win the Republican presidential nomination. In the 1990s, Gingrich rode the wave of far-right activism to become speaker of the House, and the activism culminated in the impeachment of President Clinton and the election of President George W. Bush. Drum predicts that the latest wave, the tea party movement, will for all intents and purposes take over the Republican Party. In each iteration, moderate Republicans resisted the wave of right-wing change, but, Drum believes, not enough moderate Republicans exist in any position of power to resist the tea party transformation. The GOP has been shifting ever rightward since the 1970s, Drum notes, and the tea party movement has profited from a transformed media environment, where it can present its ideology almost nonstop on Fox News and rely on social media such as Facebook to connect with new recruits. Drum calls the paradigm shift “the mainstreaming of extremism.” In 1961, Time magazine disparaged the JBS as “tiresome” (see March 10, 1961); in 2009, it hailed Fox News personality Glenn Beck as “gifted.” Moderates have virtually no chance in today’s environment of pushing back against the tea party’s rightward surge. “Unlike the Birchers, or even the Clinton conspiracy theorists, the tea partiers aren’t a fringe part of the conservative movement,” Drum writes. “They are the conservative movement.” Drum believes that even with all the tea party’s current success, it will eventually burn itself out, “while its broader identity becomes subsumed by a Republican Party that’s been headed down the path of ever less-tolerant conservatism for decades. In that sense, the tea party movement is merely an unusually flamboyant symptom of an illness that’s been breeding for a long time.” [Mother Jones, 9/2010]

Entity Tags: Robert Welch, Newt Gingrich, W. Cleon Skousen, Kevin Drum, Charles Koch, Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, Jonathan Kay, American Liberty League, Fred Koch, John Birch Society, Fox News, David Koch

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

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