Robert Reich writes what I can only characterize as a whining rant which is so, oh I don’t know, odd, that I have to comment. It has to do with a supposed deal the White House has struck with “big Pharma” which Reich claims keeps the government from negotiating lower drug prices in return for 80 billion in cost savings (if the government has wrung 80 bil in cost savings, isn’t that a negotiation for lower cost that has already been accomplished?):
I want universal health insurance. And having had a front-row seat in 1994 when Big Pharma and the rest of the health-industry complex went to battle against it, I can tell you firsthand how big and effective the onslaught can be. So I appreciate Big Pharma’s support this time around, and I like it that the industry is doing the reverse of what it did last time, and airing ads to persuade the public of the rightness of the White House’s effort.
But I also care about democracy, and the deal between Big Pharma and the White House frankly worries me. It’s bad enough when industry lobbyists extract concessions from members of Congress, which happens all the time. But when an industry gets secret concessions out of the White House in return for a promise to lend the industry’s support to a key piece of legislation, we’re in big trouble. That’s called extortion: An industry is using its capacity to threaten or prevent legislation as a means of altering that legislation for its own benefit. And it’s doing so at the highest reaches of our government, in the office of the president.
Notice first that the word “market” never appears in his diatribe. In fact, “market” doesn’t appear in his piece at all. That’s because Reich doesn’t care about markets. And, of course, any market that exists in health care has been so distorted by government that it hardly qualifies for the term.
Reich cares about control. And he wants full control by government. Notice that when politicians use threats to prevent legislation’s passage if what they want isn’t included in (or taken out of) a bill, that’s called “compromise”, but when an interested constituent (and pharma as a business that is government regulated certainly qualifies as that) promises to work against pending legislation that wouldn’t be in their best interest unless they get concessions, that’s “extortion”.
Reich only wants the government to have the power to extort what it wants and it makes him mad when constituents use their power to push their interests. He claims that thwarts “democracy”. Really?
As I see it, it is exactly the brand of democracy the Democrats have practiced for eons – special interest democracy. The only reason Reich is a little irritated in this case is because the special interest in question isn’t one which the left favors. Democracy, in Reich’s world, is when favored special interests
“extort” petition the government, make deals and get legislation passed which serves their interests.
All that said, I agree with one point – what in the world is the White House doing striking such deals? Since it can’t write the legislation, how does it guarantee whatever concessions it’s agreed to will show up in the final legislation? And what happens if it doesn’t make it into the final legislation after big Pharma spends more money than John McCain did during the presidential election for TV adds supporting Obamacare?
That’s one of the trends now. If you can’t argue the merits of the legislation, make gross and unsubstantiated assumptions and claims and take off from there. For instance, this from Keith Boykin at “The Daily Voice”, which claims to be “black America’s daily news source”:
In the past few months, we’ve witnessed the unleashing of the radical elements of the Republican Party base. The anti-tax economic conservatives, racist Obama-haters, gun-toting Second Amendment fanatics and birth certificate conspiracy theorists have two things in common: they’re mostly white and they despise President Obama.
With the groundwork laid (one has to wonder – if blacks despised George Bush, was that because they were racists or because they were ideologically and substantially opposed to his agenda?), however loosely with everyone lumped into the same category and characterized by race, Boykin finally gets to his point:
And it doesn’t matter that the president’s domestic policies of providing universal health care, middle class tax cuts, and economic stability will benefit the very people who cry the loudest. This is not about policy. It’s about politics. The politics of rage and race.
Of course Boykin again assumes things not in evidence to make his claim that it is all about race. First, he dismisses the legitimate arguments which have been brought forward about health care, secondly he seems to believe that the spending spree the administration has been on won’t have to paid off and third, he’s apparently blind to the fact that the “economic stability” he touts has been purchased with a future debt which will cripple us economically. Notice I made those points easily and without once even hinting about the race of the president.
They all are legitimate reasons to speak out, all legitimate reasons to be a bit enraged about the direction of the country. But, with his grand generalities and false assumptions in place, Boykin continues to build his case for this all being about race:
The town hall meetings have been branded “town brawls” by the media, but they are really “town mauls” where angry mobsters silence dissent and discourse. And despite the denials from the right, race is a deciding factor here.
So now, Americans acting like Americans are not only un-American for doing so, they’re racist.
And Boykin isn’t the only one pushing this line. David Boaz at CATO has a couple more examples. Paul Krugman, whose arguments for the health care legislation have been weak at best, also pulls the race card to lump “town hall mobs” in with “birthers”:
But they’re probably reacting less to what Mr. Obama is doing, or even to what they’ve heard about what he’s doing, than to who he is.
That is, the driving force behind the town hall mobs is probably the same cultural and racial anxiety that’s behind the “birther” movement, which denies Mr. Obama’s citizenship.
Philip Kennicott throws race around in a Washington Post piece entitled “Obama as the Joker: Racial Fear’s Ugly Face”::
[T]he poster is ultimately a racially charged image. By using the “urban” makeup of the Heath Ledger Joker, instead of the urbane makeup of the Jack Nicholson character, the poster connects Obama to something many of his detractors fear but can’t openly discuss. He is black and he is identified with the inner city, a source of political instability in the 1960s and ’70s, and a lingering bogeyman in political consciousness despite falling crime rates…
Superimpose that idea, through the Joker’s makeup, onto Obama’s face, and you have subtly coded, highly effective racial and political argument. Forget socialism, this poster is another attempt to accomplish an association between Obama and the unpredictable, seeming danger of urban life.
This is a building theme which is a classic diversion by the left. Using it allows them to play the powerful “politically correct” card they’ve so lovingly cultivated for decades. And it is something which needs to be nipped in the bud right now.
The assumption that this is all about race attempts to plaster that claim over the obviously horrendous problems evident with government taking control of health care and the history of Americans of all races protesting such attempts at government expansion. It is, in reality, a classic move by the left to use political correctness as it was intended to be used – to stifle debate. And what we see coming out of the likes of Boykin, Krugman and Kennicott are the racialists laying the ground work to make the charge.
Their arguments are weak, but their intent is clear – broad-brush tarring of those who oppose this administration as nothing more than racist whites opposing the administration’s plans for no other reason than the president is a black man. That, of course, makes dismissing their arguments much easier to do and that is precisely the intent of playing the race card.
Protesters have been called “angry mobs”, “paid agitators” and recently, “brownshirts” and “unAmerican” – all by Democratic Congressmembers.
You knew it was only a matter of time before the racialists got into the act. And right on cue I give you “WhiffleBall” with Chris “thrill up his leg” Matthews:
CHRIS MATTHEWS: Put 100 of these people in a room. Strap them into gurneys. Inject them with sodium pentathol. How many of them would say “I don’t like the idea of having a black president”? What percentage?
CYNTHIA TUCKER: Oh, I’m just guessing. This is just off the cuff. I think 45 to 65% of the people who appear at these groups are people who will never be comfortable with the idea of a black president.
Just freakin’ amazing – it’s all about Obama to these folks. Having looked at video after video after video of interviews with the “mob”, the “browshirts” the “unAmerican”, I can only wonder where Tucker and Matthews even pretend to come up with this line of dialog.
Pretty sad stuff, but, for the party which invented identity politics and the politics of personal destruction, not at all surprising.
The left has a very short and convenient memory – it apparently begins at January 20th, 2009 and has no memory of , say, 2005. And the left now thinks that what his happening with these townhall meetings is simply unprecedented and a new, low chapter in right-wing extremism.
But as Jon Henke reminds us, this is nothing new:
* NW Progressive Institute, March 2005: “a boisterous crowd which frequently interrupted the discussion with shouts and hard nosed questions. … Democrats in the audience who were interrupting the panel…. the crowd erupted in anger… Democrats in the audience started shouting him down again.”
* Savannah Morning News, March 2005: “By now, Jack Kingston is used to shouted questions, interruptions and boos. Republican congressmen expect such responses these days when they meet with constituents about President Bush’s proposal to overhaul Social Security.”
* USA Today, March 2005: “Shaken by raucous protests at open “town hall”-style meetings last month … Santorum was among dozens of members of Congress who ran gantlets of demonstrators and shouted over hecklers at Social Security events last month. Many who showed up to protest were alerted by e-mails and bused in by anti-Bush organizations such as MoveOn.org and USAction, a liberal advocacy group. They came with prepared questions and instructions on how to confront lawmakers.”
You must understand that when Democrats did it in 2005, it was political dissent. Now that the right is engaged in the same sort of behavior, it is “political terrorism”.
They really don’t like it when their own tactics are used against them, do they?
Irony, as we’ve all learned, is not something with which the left is well attuned.
For instance, until the Obama administration unleashed the unions, the townhall meetings were a little raucous, but not violent.
But now that the White House has all but explicitly condoned the demonization and thus the marginalization of those who disagree with his attempt to “reform” health care, and further called on the unions to send in paid operatives to “punch back”, we have violence.
The irony? This, from Dennis Rivera, health care chairman of the SEIU after six of his goons had assaulted a protester in St. Louis:
“These are the times to clearly speak out in a civilized way, and tell them we won’t be prevented by these terrorist tactics from participating in these town hall meetings,”
Always nice to know how the opposition defines “civilized way” isn’t it?
Yup, raising your voice in a townhall meeting and not just shutting up and listening to the nonsense the man or woman (does anyone understand what the word “representative” means?) who works for you is spouting is now a “terroist tactic” according to the SEIU.
Solution – assault people in a ‘civilized way’, bar those who disagree with the administration from a place in the meeting while packing it with handpicked union members and call it a “townhall”.
Pure, unadulterated cowardice on parade is what it is. Apparently the Dems are not only unaware of the irony of the situation, but also unfamiliar with the first law of holes. And trust me, they are digging a deep one with their present behavior.
UPDATE: What are union members from Chicago doing at a St. Louis townhall meeting?
Unsurprisingly, it wasn’t an “extreme right-wing mobster” doing the attacking. The scene was a townhall meeting in St. Louis, MO. The report is from the St. Louis Dispatch:
Kenneth Gladney, 38, a conservative activist from St. Louis, said he was attacked by some of those arrested as he handed out yellow flags with “Don’t tread on me” printed on them. He spoke to the Post-Dispatch from the emergency room at St. John’s Mercy Medical Center, where he said he was awaiting treatment for injuries to his knee, back, elbow, shoulder and face. Gladney, who is black, said one of his attackers, also a black man, used a racial slur against him before the attack.
“It just seems there’s no freedom of speech without being attacked,” he said.
So now we have violence introduced into these meetings where none existed previously.
And what’s been the only change?
The mobilization of unions to counter the protesters from the right.
Yeah, nothing can go wrong with that plan, can it?
UPDATE: Video of the attack.
Listen at about the 1:00 mark when one of the thugs that attacked him claims that Gladney “attacked America”. Also note that the black guy who runs away in the beginning is wearing a union tee-shirt as is the guy who is eventually arrested.
We now have real paid organizers promising to produce bodies to confront the citizenry showing up at townhall meetings to loudly voice their disapproval.
The nation’s largest federation of labor organizations has promised to directly engage with boisterous conservative protesters at Democratic town halls during the August recess.
In a memo sent out on Thursday, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney outlined the blueprint for how the union conglomerate would step up recess activities on health care reform and other topics pertinent to the labor community. The document makes clear that Obama allies view the town hall forums as ground zero of the health care debate. It also uses the specter of the infamous 2000 recount “Brooks Brothers” protest to rally its members to the administration’s side.
What could go wrong with this scenario? First, who says they’re all “boisterous conservative protesters?” This is about union members going to an event expressly to confront those who are voicing a dissenting opinion and quelling that. Talk about setting themselves up for a huge “fail”. Talk about setting themselves up for a huge backlash.
“The principal battleground in the campaign will be town hall meetings and other gatherings with members of Congress in their home districts,” reads the memo. “We want your help to organize major union participation to counter the right-wing “Tea-Party Patriots” who will try to disrupt those meetings, as they’ve been trying to do to meetings for the last month. …
Yeah, nothing could go wrong here.
But, of course, since this is true astroturfing, there’s a political payback being demanded:
But while the union conglomerate seems poised to flex its political muscle on Obama’s behalf, it may find some friction on the policy front. Detailed in Sweeney’s memo are certain legislative priorities that are clearly at odds with what seems likely to be produced in the Senate Finance Committee’s compromise bill.
Sweeney describes it as a “requirement that ALL employers ‘pay or play,'” that the final bill have “a robust public health insurance plan to compete with private insurers and drive down health costs,” and that the legislation contain “relief for company/union funds providing pre-Medicare retiree coverage, and no taxation of health benefits!”
Yes friends, these protesters will truly be paid protesters. If they help intimidate the citizenry at the townhall meetings, then they expect to see their legislative desires fulfilled.
As the AFL-CIO spools itself up to confront the “mobs”, its secretary issues the battle cry of the astroturfer:
Every American has the inalienable right to participate in our democratic process. Our politics is passionate, heartfelt and often loud — as was the founding of our nation. But that is not what the corporate-funded mobs are engaging in when they show up to disrupt town halls held by members of Congress.
Major health care reform is closer than ever to passage and it is no secret that special interests want to weaken or block it. These mobs are not there to participate. As their own strategy memo states, they have been sent by their corporate and lobbyist bankrollers to disrupt, heckle and block meaningful debate. This is a desperation move, meant to slow the momentum for change.
Mob rule is not democracy. People have a democratic right to express themselves and our elected leaders have a right to hear from their constituents — not organized thugs whose sole purpose is to shut down the conversation and attempt to scare our leaders into inaction
We call on the insurance companies, the lobbyists and the Republican leaders who are cheering them on to halt these ‘Brooks Brothers Riot’ tactics. Health care is a crucial issue and everyone – on all sides of the issue – deserves to be heard.
Does anyone out there have to wonder what tactics they’ll use to ensure others are “heard”? Republican can only pray they do.
It apparently was manufactured by lefty blog Think Progress.
Mary Katherine Ham takes a look at the “shocking, secret memo” that Think Progress “”unearthed and the DNC prominently displayed in their ad attacking those who are protesting at townhall meetings as “right-wing extremists” put up to the task by high-profile Republican groups.
As it turns out in this case “high-profile” means no one had heard of him, he is a libertarian and his “group” consists of 23 Facebookers who’ve joined his cause and 5 followers on Twitter.
When the “manufactured” outrage the Left is trying to demonize lines up so inconveniently with public polling, it’s sometimes necessary to create evidence for the “manufactured” storyline.
Enter Think Progress, which unearthed this shocking, secret memo from the leader of a small grassroots conservative organization in Connecticut, which allegedly instructs members on “infiltrating town halls and harassing Democratic members of Congress.”
Right Principles PAC was formed by Bob MacGuffie and four friends in 2008, and has taken in a whopping $5,017 and disbursed $1,777, according to its FEC filing.
“We’re just trying to shake this state up and make a difference up here,” MacGuffie told me during a telephone interview. He’s surprised at his elevation to national rabble-rouser by the Left.
Read all of MKH’s story about this elevation of a absolute unknown to an evil political manipulator by a blog, a national political committee and a willing network (naturally MSNBC jumped on this like a duck on a junebug).
In the meantime Jake Tapper has a report by Steven Portnoy about a townhall meeting in Mardela Springs, MD:
There were no lobbyist-funded buses in the parking lot of Mardela Middle and High School on Tuesday evening, and the hundreds of Eastern Maryland residents who packed the school’s auditorium loudly refuted the notion that their anger over the Democrats’ health care reform plans is “manufactured.”
“I went to school in this school,” a man named Bob told me. “I don’t see anyone in this room that isn’t from Mardela Springs right now.”
“We’ve been quiet too long,” said a woman named Joan.
So much for the “manufactured outrage” meme. Oh they’ll keep trying, but it appears the outrage is genuine and the only thing being manufactured is a story line by the left.
This sort of grassroots dissent obviously makes them very uncomfortable. And, of course they’re in denial right now – how could it turn around this fast to where they, who were on the offensive for at least 4 years, are suddenly on the defensive? The easiest thing to do is hand-wave the troubles away and deny their importance.
Well, they do that at their own political peril. This seems to be far more than a few angry right-wing dissidents as was evident when a registered Democrat called Steny Hoyer a liar the other day in a townhall meeting.
People are rightfully worried about the direction this current government has taken, and, apparently, they’re not going to sit quietly by as they tax and spend us into penury.
The videos of what are described as “angry” townhalls around the country keep pouring in. Here’s one from Green Bay, WI.
Of course there are tons of others.
The Democrats and the left have answered the protests by claiming that they’re nothing more than “right-wing extremists” under the control of powerful interest groups. Thus the charge of “astro-turfing”.
These accusations by the DNC seem to ignore the Tea Party movement’s origins which was, on inspection, a true grass-roots movement (and one that has taken both Democrats and Republicans to task for their profligate spending). Notice too that they include the “birthers” in their vid to underline their “extremist” claim.
The White House, instead of trying to calm the waters, has chosen employ Saul Alinsky against the protesters:
A key part of the developing strategy: ridicule the opposition — and portray those who disrupt meetings with loud chants and signs as part of the same ilk of people who showed up at campaign rallies for John McCain and Sarah Palin right after the 2008 Republican National Convention.
So this turns into a propaganda war. The left will be attempting to turn public opinion against the protesters by portraying them a certain way.
Patronizing opponents is a tried and true tradition in Washington, and Democrats have used the tactic with success. They ridiculed the hundreds of thousands of conservatives who protested the stimulus package as “tea baggers.”
But Republicans are just as responsible for the perception. The folks who tend to show up at protest events tend to be to the right of the mean in the party. And, as the spread of the birther movement demonstrates, not a small chunk of these Republicans are reactionaries. The challenge for the White House and Democrats is that they find a way to separate genuinely anxious conservatives who ask good questions — even if those questions are provided by conservative groups — and the crazies who tend to pack town hall meetings.
Of course, most reasonable people would suggest, upon reflection, that if this was an “astro-turfed” movement, those who are paying for it would have much tighter control and avoid the obviously unhelpful signage and any connection with the birther movement. That’s obviously not the case.
So the right and Republicans have the momentum, at least for now, but it isn’t clear if they have an advantage for the reasons stated.
The challenge for Republicans is to prevent the media from labeling everyone who attends a meeting with a Democratic lawmaker and who calls him or herself a conservative as a crazy person. Some polling suggests that the percentage of Republicans who don’t know whether President Obama was born in the United States is fairly high, although it is hard to say how much of that confusion stems from ignorance or from a generally jaundiced, perhaps racist, view of the President.
A range of smaller, ideologically conservative interest groups are organizing the protests. Finding pockets of activist-oriented arch-conservatives in places like Texas, Missouri and Indiana is easy, especially if the set goal is to defeat Obama-care, which is being sold to these people as the approach of government-run health care, something that these folks have been worried about for years. Add to the mix a desire to hand the progressive President and his agenda a decisive defeat.
And there’s an interesting question about pushing back on the left – where are its activists and organizations?
The more troublesome question for Democratic strategists is why the major Democratic groups, including Organizing for America, the labor unions, Health Care for America Now, seem to be flatfooted and unable to match the much smaller conservative organizing capacity in these critical districts. One answer is that the media pays attention to the loudest voices, which are coming from the right. The other is that organizing around major — even popular — reforms of existing institutions is tough. The Democrats don’t have a single bill right now, and the elite left is worried about what’s not in the cards — a public plan — and is therefore fairly unenthusiastic. If the liberal elite isn’t enthusiastic, the liberal base — less knowledgeable — will be as well.
And of course, there’s the media – which, it seems, leans mostly toward helping the administration. For instance, the conclusion of the article from which I’ve been quoting from Mark Ambinder at The Atlantic:
To focus minds, Democrats are coordinating TV and radio ad blitzes, including the biggest expenditures by the Democratic National Committee to date. President Obama, his cabinet and his vice president will be ubiquitous. Quickly responding to disinformation will be a key goal, an administration official said, pointing to this morning’s release of a video from Linda Douglass, a former television and print reporter who serves as a key White House health care adviser, which rebutted a misleading video posted on the Drudge Report.
Linda Douglass “rebutted” nothing. She made a bunch of claims she’d have difficulty substantiating. But that is how it is being reported. The implication is that what is coming from the right is “disinformation” and the only true source of factual information is the White House.
I think we all know that dog won’t hunt.
But this should be a very, very interesting August.
[Welcome RCP readers]
To hear the left talk about these protests that are springing up and townhalls held by various Representatives and Senators, you’d think that such protests are just unAmerican.
And, of course, the usual raft of “astro-turf” allegations are being thrown around. I’ve watched a few of the videos though and these folks doing the protesting seem pretty darn dedicated to stopping the big health care grab.
In fact, what I see happening is the right using the same sorts of tactics and methods that the left seemed so comfortable with during the Bush administration. Web 2.0 communications that networks protesting groups and keeps them updated and mobilized. I guess there are those out there that can’t imagine that happening at a grass-roots level anymore, although that is the MO the left developed previously while denying the astro-turf allegations.
In fact, I’m somewhat surprised because the right is less likely to run in packs like the left is, so a tip of the hat to the righties – good community organizing guys.
As for the left, suck it up and have the good grace to suffer in silence, recognizing that what you’re seeing now is what you defended as the highest form of patriotism during the previous 8 years.