The wingnuts lied — of course. The “spontaneous” town hall “protests” we saw in August were nothing of the sort: they were organized with the knowledge and coooperation of the highest levels of the Republican Party.
On the first day of August, a mob of 200 right-wing Texans stormed the parking lot of a Randalls grocery store in southwest Austin. They were united in a single goal: Disrupt the “office hours” that Rep. Lloyd Doggett, the district’s congressman, had scheduled for his constituents. The protesters targeted Doggett for his role in crafting the House’s bill to reform health care, brandishing signs that read “No Government Health Care” and “No Government Counselor in My Home!!!” But their anger seemed to encompass a universe of conservative fears: higher taxes, illegal immigration, socialism. The threat of violence was thinly veiled: One agitator held aloft a tombstone with the name Doggett. Screaming, “Just say no!” the mob chased Doggett through the parking lot to an aide’s car — roaring with approval as he fled the scene.
Conservatives were quick to insist that the near-riot — the first of many town-hall mobs that would dominate the headlines in August — was completely spontaneous. The protesters didn’t show up “because of some organized group,” Rick Scott, the head of Conservatives for Patients’ Rights, told reporters. “They’re mad about the stimulus bill, the bailout, the economy. Now they see that their health care is about to be taken over by the government.”
In fact, Scott’s own group had played an integral role in mobilizing the protesters. According to internal documents obtained by Rolling Stone, Conservatives for Patients’ Rights had been working closely for weeks as a “coalition partner” with three other right-wing groups in a plot to unleash irate mobs at town-hall meetings just like Doggett’s. Far from representing a spontaneous upwelling of populist rage, the protests were tightly orchestrated from the top down by corporate-funded front groups as well as top lobbyists for the health care industry. Call it the return of the Karl Rove playbook: The effort to mobilize the angriest fringe of the Republican base was guided by a conservative dream team that included the same GOP henchmen who Swift-boated John Kerry in 2004, smeared John McCain in 2000, wrote the script for Republican obstructionism on global warming, and harpooned the health care reform effort led by Hillary Clinton in 1993.
“The insurance industry is up to the same dirty tricks, using the same devious PR practices it has used for many years, to kill reform,” says Wendell Potter, who stepped down last year as chief of corporate communications for health insurance giant CIGNA. “I’m certain that people showing up at these town halls feel that they’re there on their own — but they don’t realize they’re being incited, ultimately, by the insurance industry and the other special interests.”
Behind the scenes, top Republicans — including House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, Minority Leader John Boehner and the chairman of the GOP’s Senate steering committee, Jim DeMint — worked hand-in-glove with the organizers of the town brawls. Their goal was not only to block health care reform but to bankrupt President Obama’s political capital before he could move on to other key items on his agenda, including curbing climate change and expanding labor rights. As DeMint told an August teleconference of nearly 20,000 town-hall activists, “If we can stop him on this, the administration won’t be able to go on to cap and trade, card check and the other things they want to do.”
(hat tip: Balloon Juice)