Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Industry funded right wing rent-a-mobs aren't just poisoning public discourse

Much has been written over the past couple of weeks about the right wing rent-a-mobs that are being ginned up by opponents of healthcare reform to disrupt Democratic town halls. National progressive blogs are tracking developments across the nation, cable television news is devoting plenty of coverage, and local and national columnists alike have weighed in.

Democratic leaders, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Harry Reid, have gone out of their way to correctly point out that these ugly bands of right wing "protesters" are indeed rent-a-mobs, primarily organized by fake grassroots operations run out of D.C. Here's the Center for American Progress:
Despite these attempts to make the “movement” appear organic, the principle organizers of the local events are actually the lobbyist-run think tanks Americans for Prosperity and Freedom Works. The two groups are heavily staffed and well funded, and are providing all the logistical and public relations work necessary for planning coast-to-coast protests:
Freedom Works staffers coordinate conference calls among protesters, contacting conservative activists to give them “sign ideas, sample press releases, and a map of events around the country.”

Freedom Works staffers apparently moved to “take over” the planning of local events in Florida.

Freedom Works provides how-to guides for delivering a “clear message” to the public and media.

Freedom Works has several domain addresses — some of them made to look like they were set up by amateurs — to promote the protests.

Americans for Prosperity is writing press releases and planning the events in New Jersey, Arizona, New Hampshire, Missouri, Kansas, and several other states.
Media Matters has a profile of some of the big corporations that are funding the mob organizers. Corporate cons, meet the paleocons.

Another of these organizations, Conservatives for Patients' Rights, has even taken credit for manufacturing the furor, drawing a condemnation from White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs.

Republicans and spokesmen for the astroturf groups, meanwhile, are ardently pretending that this is a populist uprising that they have little or nothing to do with.

The evidence shows otherwise.

Are there people out there opposed to healthcare reform who are coming to the town halls of their own accord? Yes. But the purposeful unruliness and harassment is all part of the right wing's playbook.

The "rented mobs" are comprised of the people who have been instructed to show up and cause trouble, led and/or encouraged by by lobbyists. Not participate, not listen, not share opinions, but create havoc.

Writing in the New York Times, columnist Paul Krugman observes that some conservatives are trying to justify the manufactured havoc by claiming that progressives have been unruly in the past:
Some commentators have tried to play down the mob aspect of these scenes, likening the campaign against health reform to the campaign against Social Security privatization back in 2005. But there’s no comparison. I’ve gone through many news reports from 2005, and while anti-privatization activists were sometimes raucous and rude, I can’t find any examples of congressmen shouted down, congressmen hanged in effigy, congressmen surrounded and followed by taunting crowds.

And I can’t find any counterpart to the death threats at least one congressman has received.
One of these commentators, Jon Henke, tried to refute Krugman by selectively excerpting phrases out of a post I wrote in March 2005 about Dave Reichert's Social Security town hall. Here's the selective excerpt Henke patched together:
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."
Henke didn't bother to provide his readers with any full context (other than linking to my post, so that people can read for themselves) but if he thinks that the town hall I went to disproves Krugman's assertion, he's dead wrong.

I remember that town hall very clearly. And it bears no resemblance to the appalling video we've seen featuring the tactics of the right wing rent-a-mobs.

Sure, Reichert's crowd was in, for the most part, a feisty, boisterous mood, but people were also respectful. Henke doesn't bother to explain to his readers that the person who got interrupted was one of Congressman Reichert's panelists - Paul Guppy of the Washington Policy Center - not Reichert himself.

When Reichert spoke, the room listened.

The reason audience members interrupted Guppy is because there was no one on Reichert's panel who represented their views. It was stacked with pro-privatization conservatives. Guppy was distorting the facts in his anti-Social Security "presentation", and so he found himself interrupted. He wasn't interrupted because audience members wanted to sabotage the event.

They just wanted to object to Guppy's rhetoric, much like a lawyer might rise from his or her chair during court proceedings and say, "Objection!".

The people who interrupted Guppy did not carry signs with swastikas or scream ugly slogans. There were no death threats. Nobody was violent. Congressman Reichert was not hanged in effigy. Audience members did not harass him as he walked out to his car after it was over. Nor did audience members assault him.

The town hall began and ended very peacefully; both progressive and conservative groups handed out literature and buttons.

The audience might have been quiet the entire time if the panel discussion had not been staged. Doubtless this decision was belied by advice from the Bush administration and Tom DeLay, but Reichert should have discarded it, since staged events just don't work when the audience has not been prescreened.

The rent-a-mobs, in contrast, are employing hate speech, death threats, and violence. They have come to town halls with the goal of causing trouble. It's thuggery, pure and simple, designed to prevent the free and open exchange of ideas. And it's being furthered by hate talkers, particularly Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck. Fox is promoting the dates and times of Democratic town halls.

Even reasonable conservatives can see this for what it is:
Monday night’s health care forum in Napa grew unruly and wild, with some critics of the current health care proposals seeking to derail the event, harming their cause and nearly destroying a meaningful forum on a critical topic for Napa and the nation.

The display was unwelcome — and unsuccessful if it was meant to move health care reform supporters toward considering the concerns of the critics. Several callers to the Register on Tuesday reported they were repulsed by the aggressive tactics of some members of the crowd.

To the degree the catcalls, chants and shouts were organized — and it appears from events around the country that they were — we strongly suggest that the organizers find more constructive ways to get their message out.
That's from an editorial by the Napa Valley Register, which backed John McCain in last November's presidential election.

In short, the right wing crazies are not just trying to poison the discourse, they're trying to incite violence with their hate speech. They are breeding eliminationism.

But they can be stopped.

Just as a few out of control, emotionally unstable righties can cause an ugly scene, a few empowered and motivated progressives can calm things down. The perpetrators of the hate speech need people to be riled up; their goals are furthered by violence, shouting, and pandemonium. Conversely, when discourse turns peaceful and fair, that's a win for progressivism.

Most people, including reasonable conservatives, do not want to be in the midst of an ugly scene for a reason. It's scary.

So efforts to restore calm when things fall apart are very important, because well behaved people will naturally respond to them.


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