Swiftboating Town Halls
Original post made by The Fixx, Vineyard Hills, on Aug 5, 2009
THE MEMOS: As with the tea parties, these town halls are "lessons in how political interests enlist human and technological resources to build political pressure while those responsible remain safely behind the curtain." Last week, The Progress Report obtained a leaked memo from a volunteer with Tea Party Patriots, a website sponsored by Americans for Prosperity (AFP) (led by a former associate of Jack Abramoff) and FreedomWorks (led by former Republican Majority Leader and current lobbyist Dick Armey). The memo detailed how town hall goers should infiltrate meetings and harass Democratic members of Congress. The memo said activists should "stand up and shout out and sit right back down" so the representative is "made to feel that a majority, and if not, a significant portion of at least the audience, opposes the socialist agenda of Washington." The overall goal, said the memo, is to "rattle" the elected official. Earlier this week, a FreedomWorks volunteer, who doubles as a Tea Party protester, published another memo that outlined a strategy "for his fellow activists -- a playbook of sorts for protesters seeking to disrupt and harass members of Congress during town hall forums in their districts."
A BROAD STRATEGY: Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, has endorsed the strategy of staged protests, telling Politico the days of civil town halls are now "over." In a memo to House Republicans, Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) promised "anger" during the August recess: "Americans' anger will be on full display in the weeks ahead as Members of Congress leave Washington and travel the nation listening to the voices of their constituents." The published memos are similar to talking points being distributed by FreedomWorks that push an anti-health reform assault all summer. Patients United, a front group maintained by AFP, is busing people all over the country to protest health care reform. America's Health Insurance Plans, the trade group and lobbying juggernaut representing the health insurance industry, is also sending staffers to monitor town halls in 30 states. Meanwhile, Conservatives for Patients' Rights (CPR), led by disgraced hospital executive Rick Scott, is running a national campaign against a public health care option. Yesterday, the group took credit for "helping gin up the sometimes-rowdy outbursts targeting House Dems at town hall meetings around the country, raising questions about their spontaneity." Earlier in the week, a representative of CPR "sent an email to a list serve (called the Tea Party Patriots Health Care Reform Committee) containing a spreadsheet that lists over one hundred congressional town halls from late July into September." And last weekend, CPR announced it will send staff to "confront" lawmakers at town halls and then transition to negative ads.
TOWN HALLS GONE WILD: In one incident of right-wing outrage, protesters surrounded Rep. Tim Bishop (D-NY), forcing police to escort him to his car. In another, anti-health care protesters hung up an effigy of Rep. Frank Kratovil (D-MD) outside his district office in Salisbury, MD. The city was the site of a recent symposium on the dangers of "government-run health care," sponsored by a group called "Patients First," a project of AFP. Two nights ago, Reps. Steve Kagen (D-WI) and Steve Driehaus (D-OH) had to face down angry mobs. Kagen, whose town hall was targeted by the Wisconsin chapter of AFP, was "repeatedly disrupted" by "incomprehensible" shrieks and shouts from conservatives. And just last night, Fox's local Houston affiliate reported that at a rowdy town hall hosted by Rep. Gene Green (D-TX), some attendees admitted "they don't live in the district." Still, Democrats are vowing not to let the disruptions stop health care reform. "I hope my colleagues won't fall for a sucker-punch like this," Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) told The Progress Report. "These health insurance companies and people like them are trying to load these town halls for visual impact on television." Doggett agreed. After his town hall was ambushed he declared, "I am more committed than ever to win approval of legislation to offer more individual choice to access affordable health care. An effective public plan is essential to achieve that goal." And Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) promised Democrats wouldn't waiver: "In spite of the loud, shrill voices trying to interrupt town hall meetings and just throw a monkey wrench into everything, we're going to continue to be positive and work hard."