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Profile: Doug Thornell

Doug Thornell was a participant or observer in the following events:

Spencer Bachus.Spencer Bachus. [Source: Chicago Tribune]US Representative Spencer Bachus (R-AL) tells a group of local leaders in Trussville, Alabama, “Some of the men and women I work with in Congress are socialists.” Asked to clarify his comment, Bachus tells a reporter that 17 members of the House of Representatives are socialists. [Birmingham News, 4/9/2009; Hill, 4/9/2009]
Only Names One of 17 - When pressed, Bachus only names one of his “socialists”—Representative Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who has repeatedly recommended that the US adopt a program of “democratic socialism” similar to some practiced in Scandinavian countries. He refuses to name the other 16. Sanders asks rhetorically: “Has Spencer released his list yet? Everybody’s waiting with bated breath.” He adds, “I think at the very least he has to tell people what his definition of socialism is—and I think, yeah, he should tell us who he was referring to, who’s on the list.”
Possible Reference to Congressional Progressive Caucus - Many Congressional staffers and advisers believe that Bachus is referring to some members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, a left-leaning coalition of 77 House members founded by Sanders in the early 1990s. Although the caucus has not espoused socialism in any form, it does advocate reduced military spending, universal health care, and higher taxes on the rich. Right-wing groups have long labeled the caucus’s agenda as “fringe-left socialism”; one hard-right pundit, WorldNetDaily’s Joseph Farah, has called the caucus “Congress’s very own Red Army… marching the nation inevitably toward its self-proclaimed socialist ideal.”
Differing Definitions - Politico’s Glenn Thrush writes that the term “socialism” has different meanings for different people. “To many on the left, it’s a relatively benign—if outdated—term, representing an activist, interventionist government that prioritizes economic security over the unfettered freedom of the marketplace. To many on the right, it’s practically an epithet—suggesting a return to Soviet-style Communism or a leap toward a hyper-regulated European brand of capitalism that stifles innovation and hikes taxes. It’s safe to say that more people in Bachus’s suburban Birmingham district—the most GOP-tilting seat in the country, according to the Cook Political Report—view socialism as a bad, bad thing.”
Mixed Reactions - Doug Thornell, speaking for Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), says of Bachus’s accusation: “House Republicans’ solution to the current economic crisis is to launch head-scratching, ‘50s-style accusations against unidentified members of Congress. Next thing you know they’ll be going after beatniks and calling for the auto industry to bring back the Edsel.… With all the challenges we face, it’s stunning this is what Republicans are talking about. They sound like a broken record of GOP low points from the 2008 campaign.” Erin Kanoy of the Heritage Foundation is glad Bachus “called out” his colleagues, saying: “I think that people expressing where they see someone on the political spectrum has tended to be an off-limits thing and very politically incorrect—but sometimes I think you’ve got to call a spade a spade. If Bachus believes members of Congress are part of this movement, he should be able to say it.… He’s really reflecting a much larger frustration with the landslide of legislation that we’ve had coming at us that seems to be marching towards socialist government.” Conservative activist Grover Norquist agrees with Bachus’s position, but says he should not have gotten into the subject of lists. “We shouldn’t get into a labeling thing with the other side,” Norquist says. “We shouldn’t call them socialists—we should call them stupid because they are spending all this money we don’t have.” Sanders notes that conservatives tried to tar Barack Obama with similar accusations: “They said a lot of this stuff about Obama during the [presidential] campaign, calling him a socialist, and trying to instill fear in people” (see August 1, 2008 and After, October 10, 2008, October 27, 2008, and March 5, 2009). Many progressive and liberal bloggers have accused Bachus of launching an attack on Democrats worthy of the McCarthyite “Red scare” of the 1950s. [Washington Post, 4/10/2009; Politico, 4/14/2009]
Defending Socialism, Decrying 'Scare Tactics' - In an op-ed for the Huffington Post, Sanders writes: “I doubt that there are any other socialists, let alone 17 more, in all of the Congress. I also respectfully doubt that Spencer Bachus understands much about democratic socialism.… At its worst, Washington is a place where name-calling partisan politics too often trumps policy.… [B]randing someone as a socialist has become the slur du jour by leading lights of the American right from Newt Gingrich to Rush Limbaugh. Some, like Mike Huckabee, intentionally blur the differences between socialism and communism, between democracy and totalitarianism. ‘Lenin and Stalin would love this stuff,’ Huckabee told last winter’s gathering of the Conservative Political Action Conference. If we could get beyond such nonsense, I think this country could use a good debate about what goes on here compared to places with a long social-democratic tradition like Sweden, Norway, and Finland, where, by and large, the middle class has a far higher standard of living than we do.… [W]e should be prepared to study and learn from the successes of social democratic countries. Name-calling and scare tactics just won’t do.” [Huffington Post, 4/22/2009]

Entity Tags: Congressional Progressive Caucus, Spencer Bachus, Chris Van Hollen, Barack Obama, Bernie Sanders, Newt Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh, Joseph Farah, Doug Thornell, Conservative Political Action Conference, Erin Kanoy, Mike Huckabee, Grover Norquist, Glenn Thrush

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections

Conservatives for Patients’ Rights logo.Conservatives for Patients’ Rights logo. [Source: Conservatives for Patients? Rights]An organization called Conservatives for Patients’ Rights (CPR) publicly takes credit for orchestrating the disruptive and sometimes-violent protests against the White House’s health care reform proposals (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, and August 4, 2009). Washington Post reporter Greg Sargent says the admission “rais[es] questions about [the protests’] spontaneity.” CPR is headed by Rick Scott, a former health industry CEO who once ran Columbia/HCA before being ousted for malfeasance in 1997. (Columbia/HCA subsequently paid the US government $1.7 billion dollars in fines due to fraud that occured during Scott’s tenure.) Scott, who was once a part owner of the Texas Rangers with George W. Bush, now owns an investment firm that primarily traffics in health care, and owns a chain of Florida urgent care clinics called Solantic. [Washington Post, 5/10/2009; Plum Line, 8/4/2009] (Solantic also boasts former Bush administration official Thomas Scully as a member of its board. In 2004, Scully deliberately withheld information from Congress that the Bush administration’s Medicare reforms would cost $200 billion more than acknowledged.) [MSNBC, 8/7/2009]
Contracting with 'Swift Boat' PR Firm - Scott is spending millions on CPR’s public relations effort, and has contracted with CRC Public Relations, the group that masterminded the “swift boat” attacks against 2004 Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry. He is also coordinating his efforts with Grover Norquist, the conservative advocate and influential Washington insider. CPR spokesman Brian Burgess confirms that CPR is e-mailing “town hall alert” flyers and schedules of town hall meetings to its mailing list. CPR is also actively recruiting members for the “tea party,” a loosely organized group of conservative protesters (see April 8, 2009). Scott says, “We have invested a lot of time, energy, and resources into educating Americans over the past several months about the dangers of government-run health care and I think we’re seeing some of the fruits of that campaign.” Doug Thornell, a House Democratic staff member, says: “The more you dig the more you learn that this is a carefully orchestrated effort by special interest lobbyists and the Republican Party, who are using fringe elements on the right to protect insurance company profits and defeat health care reform. The anger at these events looks very similar to what we saw at McCain/Palin rallies in the fall.” [Washington Post, 5/10/2009; Plum Line, 8/4/2009]
Group Interested in Protecting Industry Profits, Critics Say - Richard Kirsch of Health Care for America Now, a pro-reform group, says of Scott: “Those attacking reform are really looking to protect their own profits, and he’s a perfect messenger for that. His history of making a fortune by destroying quality in the health care system and ripping off the government is a great example of what’s really going on.” CPR plans on spending over $1 million a month in anti-reform television and radio ads. [Washington Post, 5/10/2009] White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, learning of CPR’s admission, says the organization is led by a “CEO that used to run a health care company that was fined by the federal government $1.7 billion for fraud. I think that’s a lot of what you need to know about the motives of that group.” Scott retorts, “It is a shame that Mr. Gibbs chooses to dismiss these Americans and their very real concerns, instead opting to level personal attacks.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 8/4/2009]

Entity Tags: Greg Sargent, Doug Thornell, Columbia/HCA, CRC Public Relations, Brian Burgess, Conservatives for Patients’ Rights, Solantic, Thomas A. Scully, Rick Scott, Richard Kirsch, Obama administration, Robert Gibbs, Grover Norquist, Republican Party, Medicare

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

One of many signs held by protesters at the 9/12 rally in Washington.One of many signs held by protesters at the 9/12 rally in Washington. [Source: Daily Kos]An organization called the “9/12 Project” (see March 13, 2009 and After), sponsored by Fox News talk show host Glenn Beck, holds a protest rally on the Capitol Mall in Washington. Other sponsors include lobbying firm FreedomWorks (see February 16-17, 2009, February 19, 2009 and After, February 27, 2009, March 2, 2009, March 13, 2009 and After, April 14, 2009, and April 15, 2009), ResistNet (see August 10, 2009) and Tea Party Patriots (see July 17, 2009 and Late July, 2009). Many protesters credit Beck for inspiring them to come to the protest, though Beck himself does not attend. [Talking Points Memo, 9/12/2009; Washington Post, 9/12/2009] Many of the signs praise Beck and Fox News, while others celebrate former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK), Representative Ron Paul (R-TX), and other conservative figures. Still others further the claim that health care reform will “kill Grandma” (see August 12, 2009) and “kill babies.” One sign, referring to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), reads, “I need my health care… Pelosi makes me sick!” Many signs depict President Obama as a Communist or socialist; one claims, “I work hard so Obama voters don’t have to!” and another refers to “Comrade Obama.” One sign, declaring “Yes! We are a Christian nation!” is signed by one of the rally speakers, Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC). [John Lewandowski, 9/12/2009]
Inflating the Numbers - Reports by local police and fire officials estimate the crowd at between 60,000 and 70,000, which columnist Josh Marshall calls “smallish by big DC protest/event standards but definitely respectable.” The Washington Post reports, “Tens of thousands protest Obama initiatives and government spending.” However, estimates by conservative radio hosts, bloggers, and media commentators put the numbers far higher, at up to two million. (TPMDC’s Brian Beutler notes that expectations were inflated the day before by a Democratic House staffer, who sent out an e-mail predicting a turnout “ranging from hundreds of thousands to two million people.” Beutler writes: “For reference, two million is just a hair under four times the total population of Washington, DC, and approximately the number of people who showed up to the history-making inauguration of President Barack Obama. Sound like a bit of an exaggeration? It probably is.” He also notes, “A source at a major liberal organization in Washington says, ‘one of the things we decided to do was try to raise expectations for turnout.’” When the initial figures are published in the media, protest organizers and various participants begin claiming that the actual turnout was somewhere between one and two million, but the numbers are being suppressed by pro-Obama media outlets. [TPMDC, 9/11/2009; Talking Points Memo, 9/12/2009] One conservative blogger writes: “‘Media’ estimates range from 60,000 to 500,000 to around two million (yes, 2,000,000). Those estimates, the language employed, and the visuals chosen for use in reporting the rally and representing the people gathered, vary greatly based solely on bias.” [St. Petersburg Times, 9/14/2009] Conservative blogger Michelle Malkin initially reports third-hand claims that ABC News is reporting turnouts between 1.2 and two million, then updates her report to note ABC denies making any such claim. She quotes another conservative blogger who writes, “However big it was, it was bigger than expected.” By day’s end, Malkin notes an ABC report that the wildly inflated crowd estimate came from FreedomWorks: “Matt Kibbe, president of FreedomWorks, the group that organized the event, said on stage at the rally Saturday that ABC News was reporting that one million to 1.5 million people were in attendance. At no time did ABC News, or its affiliates, report a number anywhere near as large. ABCNews.com reported an approximate figure of 60,000 to 70,000 protesters, attributed to the Washington, DC, fire department. In its reports, ABC News Radio described the crowd as ‘tens of thousands.’ Brendan Steinhauser, spokesman for FreedomWorks, said he did not know why Kibbe cited ABC News as a source.” Malkin then writes, “The Left, of course, has seized on the error to discredit the undeniably massive turnout today.” [Michelle Malkin, 9/12/2009; ABC News, 9/13/2009] The next day, unidentified people circulate a photo from 1997 to ‘prove’ that the rally actually attracted over a million protesters (see September 13-14, 2009). Two days after the event, London’s Daily Mail reports “up to two million” at the rally. [London Daily Mail, 9/14/2009]
Fears of Socialism - The Post reports that many protesters wave signs and tell reporters about their fears of a “socialist America” under Obama, and warn that the Democrats’ attempts to reform US health care are undermining the Constitution. One protester bellows into a bullhorn: “You want socialism? Go to Russia!” “Hell hath no fury like a taxpayer ignored,” Andrew Moylan, head of government affairs for the National Taxpayers Union, tells the crowd, which responds with lusty cheers. One speaker, Representative Tom Price (R-GA), tells the crowd: “You will not spend the money of our children and our grandchildren to feed an overstuffed government. Our history is decorated by those who endured the burden of defending freedom. Now a new generation of patriots has emerged. You are those patriots.” Many of the signs support Representative Joe Wilson (R-SC), who days before accused Obama of lying during the president’s appearance before Congress (see September 9, 2009). [Washington Post, 9/12/2009]
Exhortations to Violence? - Some of the signs and slogans chanted by the protesters strike observers as perhaps calling for violence against elected officials or citizens who disagree with the protesters’ views, or are racist and/or personally slanderous. One sign depicts an assault rifle and the words, “We came unarmed from Montana and Utah… this time!” Another reads, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time… Pennsylvanians are armed and ready!” Another, referencing proposed “triggers” that would launch a government program to provide health insurance, depicts a rifle with the caption, “I got your ‘trigger’ right here… it’s called the Second Amendment!” A number of protesters hold professionally printed signs referencing the recent death of Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), reading, “Bury ObamaCare with Kennedy.” Another, referencing the Cleveland Zoo and the discredited “birther” theory, asks: “What’s the difference between Cleveland and the White House? One has an African lion and another a lyin’ African!” A related sign calls Obama the “president of Kenya.” Another, purporting to speak in “ghetto slang,” asks, “Where my white privilege males at?” A protester waves a sign reading, “Fascist are [sic] now in control they [sic] are like a cancer slowly killing America WAKE UP.” The now-familiar signs of Obama with a Hitler mustache, and of “socialist” Obama made up like the Joker from Batman comics and movies, are also in evidence. One speaker calls Obama the “parasite-in-chief.” [Washington Post, 9/12/2009; London Daily Mail, 9/14/2009]
Reaction from Democrats - The reaction from Congressional Democrats is tepid. Doug Thornell, an adviser to Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), tells reporters, “There is a lot of intensity on the far right to defeat the president’s agenda, but I am not sure that holding up signs that say we have to bury health reform with Senator Kennedy will go over well with moderates and independent voters.” [Washington Post, 9/12/2009]

Entity Tags: Michelle Malkin, Matt Kibbe, Nancy Pelosi, Joshua Micah Marshall, Tom Price, Sarah Palin, Ron Paul, Washington Post, Tea Party Patriots, Joe Wilson, National Taxpayers Union, Jim DeMint, ResistNet, FreedomWorks, 9/12 Project, ABC News, Barack Obama, Andrew Moylan, Brian Beutler, Brendan Steinhauser, Fox News, Glenn Beck, Doug Thornell

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda

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