Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Will Healthcare Reform Survive the Tea-Baggers in August?

“It is proof of a bad cause when it is applauded by a mob”

- Seneca (1st Century A.D.)

As Congress prepares for the August recess, President Obama has advised his fellow Democrats to go home to their districts and defend the healthcare reform bills making their way through the legislative process.

But as Democrats are finding out, a mass of anti-reform conservatives are out there disrupting town hall meetings intended to defend reform measures to local constituents.

Here are just a few videos making their way around the internet…

Of course, they are trying to produce an image of overwhelming disapproval of any healthcare reform - as if all Americans were opposed to it. Obviously, this is not the case.

As Nate Silver pointed out this morning, the majority of party-identified Americans are still Democrats - but proportionally, the GOP is much more energized in the current healthcare debate.

As he writes in the post:

“…the Democrats don't have a mass movement right now. They have an electorate that's maybe 60 percent unaware of the threat that things like health care are under in Washington, 20 percent aware but burned out or ambivalent, and 10 percent both aware and engaged but busy fighting with one another. That doesn't leave very many Democrats left to stand up and shout back.”

And while the conservative movement in town hall meetings appears to be very grassroots, it is - in fact - nothing more than astroturf.

The liberal group Think Progress recently obtained (and released) a memo from a conservative group linked to FreedomWorks, which is business-funded and helped organize the April 15 tea party protests. The memo lays out a game-plan for disrupting town hall meetings.

From the memo:

“Our objective was to ‘pack the hall’ with as many people [as possible] ready to challenge [Rep. Jim Himes (D-CT)], put him on the defensive, and give him a reality check … organizing about 30 people and we spread out among the crowd of about 150 people in the hall. We used some techniques early on which immediately made Himes uncomfortable…

…Questions should be prepared … The questions should contain facts and numbers (which are embarrassing and damning to the Congressman’s record)…

…You need to rock-the-boat early in the Rep’s presentation. Watch for an opportunity to yell out and challenge the Rep’s statements early.”

The 10-page document also includes a list of prepared questions to use and ways to coordinate a mass turnout.

Will it work?

Time will only tell, but the news media has already picked up on the disruptions at these town hall meetings. Some think this strategy could backfire - only emboldening Democrats to push for reform - others think it’s a genius way to halt progress by swaying public opinion to mob mentality and scaring politicians.

As former Bush advisor Mark McKinnon says, “town halls have become town hells.”

Democratic members of Congress might want to just scrap town hall meetings this month, but as political scientist Kathleen Hall Jamieson tells Politico “The more intelligent alternative is to take the extensive network the Obama campaign developed and send all of those people to town halls.”

That could mean heated shouting matches between liberals and conservatives at town-hall meetings and one intense August recess.

UPDATE: The DNC has released a new web ad in response to the recent "mob" strategies, pinning them directly with the GOP.

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