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Tilting at Windmills

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August 4, 2009

THE UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES OF MOB HARASSMENT.... Following up on the earlier item about right-wing fanatics trying to shut down discussions over health care with harassment and disruptions, the Politico's Jonathan Martin raises a compelling point.

Yes, there is now much energy on the right. But much like those angry crowds that populated McCain and Palin rallies last fall (recall "he's an Arab"), there is danger in such raw passion.

See, as one Dem points out, the much-watched Lloyd Doggett video today. Go to about a the 2:00 minute mark and you'll find a guy carrying a kid on his shoulders and hoisting a sign with the Nazi "SS" lettering.

Recall also the hanging in effigy of another Dem congressman last week at an anti-health care rally.

These are the sort of excessive displays that breed a backlash.

It's probably the one angle the corporate interests and their lobbyists haven't considered: the unintended consequences of rallying confused right-wing activists to shout down policymakers who'll improve their health care coverage. Once you wind up the fanatics and point them in the direction of a town-hall meeting, you never really know what they're going to say, do, wear, or hold. In at least one case at the Doggett event, there really was a sign with Nazi "SS" lettering.

This is not to say all opponents of reform are radical extremists. The point, though, is that conservatives run a risk of convincing the American mainstream that the only people worked up in opposition to health care reform are nutjobs.

Indeed, the NYT noted this morning, "Doggett said that he had tried his best to answer questions, but that the demonstrators expressed opposition not only to the health care plan but also to all government programs, including Medicare and Social Security."

Obviously, those concerned about the reform proposals go beyond fringe, unhinged activists. But if and when the anti-reform campaign becomes synonymous with right-wing lunatics, organized by insurance companies, it becomes far easier for the political mainstream to dismiss their legitimacy, while regular Americans think, "Well, I don't want to be on their side."

Steve Benen 9:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (44)

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In a fair world, the guy with the Nazi sign would become representative of the anti-reform movement as a whole, the same way one Hitler ad became representative of Move On.

In a fair world...

Posted by: CT on August 4, 2009 at 9:36 AM | PERMALINK

We need for more people to show up at these events with birth certificates in-hand. That'll emphasize how main-stream these people are.

Posted by: Scott H on August 4, 2009 at 9:37 AM | PERMALINK

There's a sign with a hammer & sickle at the very beginning of the ad that's quite obvious.

I'm sure there will be lots of visuals like this for the picking. These kinds of events lend themselves to such things.

Posted by: Vicki Linton on August 4, 2009 at 9:40 AM | PERMALINK

Obviously the corporate hacks who are egging these thugs on were never told by their mothers "You're known by the company you keep."

Posted by: Mandy Cat on August 4, 2009 at 9:42 AM | PERMALINK

If I was a Congressman, I would start my town hall by asking for a show of hands to see who was on Medicare, and I would comment about all the "socialists" in the crowd. Anytime the teabaggers got worked up, I might ask to see how many people there supported destroying Social Security, the VA, TriCare, etc. Basically bait them into making powerful enemies.

Posted by: flounder on August 4, 2009 at 9:42 AM | PERMALINK

Between these healthcare activists and those two women who were yelling at Donald Rumsfeld at the White House Correspondents' Dinner, there are way too many disruptive elements on both sides of the political spectrum.

Posted by: MatthewRQuarreler on August 4, 2009 at 9:46 AM | PERMALINK

Obama should announce that, during the month of August, he will be holding a series of debates on health reform with anyone that the anti-reform folks want to put up.

He should announce the debates with much fanfare, and if the anti-reform folks don't answer, then put out press release after press release spotlighting how no one wanted to respond to this chance at open dialogue on this most important issue. If they do answer, Obama would sweep the floor with them by simply countering their inevitable scare tactics with calm, reasoned facts, because such a forum would not allow the kind of yelling and obfuscation that these astroturf forces are relying on to muddy the debate if not stop it entirely.

Time to use that bully pulpit to effect, Obama.

Posted by: terraformer on August 4, 2009 at 9:50 AM | PERMALINK

Welcome to nutjob America where deep analysis of the subject by the mainstream media instantly dispells the falsehoods and makes these rubes realize they are working against their own self interest. If Only

Posted by: John R on August 4, 2009 at 9:52 AM | PERMALINK

In 1989 the pharmaceutical industry spearheaded the repeal of the first Medicare Part B outpatient prescription drug coverage by persuading enough seniors, including Dan Rostenkowski's mother, that the whole effort was intended to sabotage seniors for the benefit of queers who needed expensive HIV medications. It worked.

What has changed, I think, is the level of transparency that is available, via Internet, to expose who is behind these kinds of campaigns.

I also agree that people showing up just to scream insults is unlikely to have the same kind of effect as seniors wringing their hands, and that's why they're trying to do both.

Posted by: Barbara on August 4, 2009 at 9:52 AM | PERMALINK

But if and when the anti-reform campaign becomes synonymous with right-wing lunatics, organized by insurance companies, it becomes far easier for the political mainstream to dismiss their legitimacy

That worked out so well for the Weimar Republic.

Posted by: Golan on August 4, 2009 at 9:53 AM | PERMALINK

I enjoy watching the Medicare and Social Security eligible folks doing the shouting.

Irony, thy hair color is white.

Posted by: TonyB on August 4, 2009 at 9:53 AM | PERMALINK

These are the same people who stood in line for Palin and called Obama a secret Muslim. Scratch them and they bleed bither blood and racial resentment.

Posted by: msw on August 4, 2009 at 9:54 AM | PERMALINK

Someone please explain to me why I'm naive in thinking the town hall meetings should start with the statement that they are for discourse (I don't even say "reasoned discourse") and that anyone who gets disruptive, including yelling and interrupting others, will be escorted out.

Why won't this work? In addition, why aren't we, as someone suggested yesterday, chanting "Medicare for everyone?" It's hard to really argue against Medicare.

Posted by: Missouri Mule on August 4, 2009 at 9:55 AM | PERMALINK

I know what we do. We lock up any who are disruptive and charge them with disorderly conduct, terroristic threats, creating a public nuisance, etc. The secret service and police taser and mase those who "act up". We pre-screen everyone, and train them droids. We have "our" audience trained to 'shout down' the protesters with our pre-meeting coaching message. We check for repig and anti-Obama stickers and have those drivers and passengers questioned and detained. We televise all the meetings and vilify the 'protesters' as traitors and elitists who care nothing for 90% of the American citizenship.

As John Hodgman would say, "Your Welcome."

G.W.Bush and DICK Cheney - "The protectors of democracy"

Posted by: In what respect, Charlie? on August 4, 2009 at 9:58 AM | PERMALINK

Take lots of video. The right has been using caricatures of the "hard left" as their opposition for decades. Anytime their has been a principled, moderate Democratic response and a loud-mouthed angry response, which response was represented on the news?

There's a reason that Al Sharpton gets all the airtime he wants: he's useful to the right. Picking your enemies wisely is good politics. It's our turn. Orly Taitz can become the face of American conservatism if we play our cards right.

Posted by: danimal on August 4, 2009 at 10:00 AM | PERMALINK

Scott H has the right idea. Reform proponents should show up alongside these "protestors for hire" and chant all the conspiracy fringe Nazi psychobabel crap whilst wearing long live Hitler T-shirts. Destroy the movement by joining it, make sure it's pushed well beyond "reasonable demonstration".

Posted by: about time on August 4, 2009 at 10:01 AM | PERMALINK

The wingers have always understood one thing-- politics matters. Yeah, it would be nice, in an apolitical world, to have health care that worked, to have a system that wasn't actually engineered to strip sick and dying people of their assets and then humiliate them-- but politics matters.

Posted by: MattF on August 4, 2009 at 10:01 AM | PERMALINK

The man with his son and the SS sign should most definitely become the visual symbol. The Democrats should turn it into an icon.

Posted by: Saint Zak on August 4, 2009 at 10:02 AM | PERMALINK

These people hate any program that comes from the liberal side of the political spectrum. I believe that these people consider themselves martyrs - a person who sacrifices something of great value for the sake of principle. Their belief system overrides their common sense.

Posted by: Sheridan on August 4, 2009 at 10:05 AM | PERMALINK

>"...campaign becomes synonymous with right-wing lunatics"

Don't forget that it worked for Hitler and Mussolini.

Posted by: Buford on August 4, 2009 at 10:06 AM | PERMALINK

i'll bet it's really cool watchin' fascism comin' to amerika on the teevee.

we can all entertain ourselves and wonder how far they'll go...
and how far they'll get.

hope someone is thinkin' about the children.

Posted by: neill on August 4, 2009 at 10:06 AM | PERMALINK

Watching this video you can only get to the conclusion that America urgently needs health care, if only to pay for its own medication.

This country is deeply sick. And recovery can only happen through the destruction of neofascist TV.

Posted by: Vokoban on August 4, 2009 at 10:08 AM | PERMALINK

The teabagging movement is too strong now. -Mike K

Preach it, brutha! Anyone who doesn't take teabaggers seriously is nuts! We're really getting the ball rolling with these town hall disruptions. Any congressperson supporting insurance reform is going to get sacked in the next election cycle.

We are mad! Angry! Teste, even, and we pledge to fight this in the pubic square at every opportunity. So fellow teabaggers, open your mouth wide in defiance and look to the sky; you're about to receive that which you so richly deserve.

It's also time we teabaggers united with like minded groups around the country. Reach out to a Cleveland steamer, Cincinnati bowtie, dirty Sanchez or even a rusty trombone, shake their hand and take them into a hearty embrace, for it is only through human contact that we can spread our message.

Posted by: doubtful on August 4, 2009 at 10:13 AM | PERMALINK

Look at the crowds at these events (it was the same as the tea bag events). Older, behind the times...they're in their death rattle. We're in for some very rough years, but the times are changing. The world is moving past them and now all they can do is screech. They're dinosaurs and the comet has already hit. Now its just a matter of dying out, and that's just a matter of time.

Posted by: Saint Zak on August 4, 2009 at 10:19 AM | PERMALINK

What utter hypocrisy!

When President Bush, VP Cheney, Sec Rumsfeld, etc were yelled at and drowned out by leftists, the protesters were "grassroots" Americans, and "great patriots" - (What ever happened to "protest is patriotic???"

Leftist are, by far, the least tolerant of diversity - if, by diversity we mean dissenting political opinion.

You made this bed of nails - now lie in it.

Posted by: fredt on August 4, 2009 at 10:21 AM | PERMALINK

Bush was drowned out by leftists? Where? At his townhall meetings, at which every attendee had to take a loyalty oath? At the few short press conferences he held in the Rose Garden? When did this knock-kneed sniveling fool ever have the courage to get out among the people to get yelled at?

Oh, yeah, when his helicopter flew over the Mall when his reign of error was thankgodfully over. Good times.

Posted by: shortstop on August 4, 2009 at 10:25 AM | PERMALINK

Yesterday, walking up Madison Ave in Manhattan, I saw a little booth all setup for Stop Obama's Nazi Health Plan, complete with multiple large pictures of the president with a Hitler mustache. I think the ship has sailed on the crazy.

Posted by: Kristin on August 4, 2009 at 10:31 AM | PERMALINK

Stop government-run government!
Wall Street for president!

Posted by: Vokoban on August 4, 2009 at 10:37 AM | PERMALINK

I'm pretty sure fredt and Mike K are parody, but it's getting hard to tell anymore. I guess it doesn't matter. Or was it Myke K? Whatever.

It is good to see how, in this day and age, these kind of industry generated "protests" are so quickly exposed. Especially the hypocrisy of the "protestors", most of whom are likely collecting various forms of government assistance. In a matter of days, the anti-reformers have become known as a bunch of wingnut birthers.
Thank you, internet and Al Gore!

Posted by: Allan Snyder on August 4, 2009 at 10:38 AM | PERMALINK

And when one of the hyper-excited nutjobs decides to take direct action by shooting someone? Oh, I forgot, that has nothing to do with the rhetoric -- just some lone gunman.

Posted by: Greg Worley on August 4, 2009 at 10:41 AM | PERMALINK

Well, getting health care reform - or any other reform - is not a gentleman's debating society.

The labor movement, for example, relied upon strikes and boycotts. The anti-war movement relied upon sit ins and protests. Similar forceful action will be necessary to achieve healthcare.

A protest march on Washington is long overdue.

And I hope somebody is raising a ruckus at Max Baucus' rallies.

Posted by: Duncan Kinder on August 4, 2009 at 10:43 AM | PERMALINK

Republicans have survived for the last decade by not needing to use more than a few talking points that were never challenged. Now that these points are challenged from every angle, they have been forced to express the real basis for the their policy pronouncements.

For instance, they have been able to argue about the cost of expanding health care. Yes it will cost something, so their talking point seems valid. But they actually want to do away with all social programs. If they can't do away with them, they want to make them as ineffective as possible so that they can be done away with in the future.

The problem with these town hall meetings filled with non-politicians who don't understand the talking points, it that the basic beliefs are revealed.

Most Republican rantings are intelligible if you understand that the goal is failed government.

Posted by: tomj on August 4, 2009 at 10:47 AM | PERMALINK

Nazi "SS" - Are you sure he hadn't just brought his child from the local petting zoo where Treeboas thrive? The RepuGs have such family values.

Posted by: berttheclock on August 4, 2009 at 10:53 AM | PERMALINK

Most Republican rantings are intelligible if you understand that the goal is failed government.

But never defense, for some reason.

(Query: what other forms of government do they continue to support? Intellectual property? Prisons? War on Drugs? )

In any event, if they continue down this road, at a certain point we are going to have to make clear to them that - that if the government cannot contain elements such as health care, which they oppose, then it cannot contain the elements which they favor, either.

I mean, I'm willing to pay pretty good taxes for health care; but if all they can go for is corporate bailouts and Iraq Wars, then tax protesting really does make sense.

Posted by: Duncan Kinder on August 4, 2009 at 10:58 AM | PERMALINK

What a pathetic indictment of our educational system. The guy should have realized that an "SA" sign, not an SS sign, was more appropriate for this action.

Of course, if the moron had actually understood the role he and his fellow modern brownshirts were serving, he might realize it's only a matter of time before the Night of the Long Knives, when tools like him have outlived their usefulness to their masters.

Posted by: biggerbox on August 4, 2009 at 10:59 AM | PERMALINK

Why aren't these protesters 1/2 mile away from the sites in cages, I mean "free speech zones"?

Posted by: grinning cat on August 4, 2009 at 11:17 AM | PERMALINK


That's fuckin funny.

Posted by: Patrick on August 4, 2009 at 11:18 AM | PERMALINK

The only problem with that, biggerbox, is that the purge did not go against the foot soldiers of the SA on that night at Bad Wiessee. The top of the SA and their bosom buddies were taken out. But, that night included the killings of several who had sleighted the leader, including one fellow named Strasser, whose "crime" was in resigning from the party. Another was the politico who had been responsible for Hitler's incarceration in Munich. In Berlin, old scores were, also, settled. This was a purge of any perceived political opponent and payback for any sleight from the past.

However, many of the foot soldiers of the SA never returned from the real battles in later years.

Posted by: berttheclock on August 4, 2009 at 11:18 AM | PERMALINK
What utter hypocrisy!

Well, sure, if you're a partisan moron who knows nothing of past history, not to mention reality.

When President Bush, VP Cheney, Sec Rumsfeld, etc were yelled at and drowned out by leftists

Since this only happened in your fevered imagination, I'm not sure why you're bringing it up here. If you can find such organized encounters in the real world, by all means let us know.

the protesters were "grassroots" Americans, and "great patriots" - (What ever happened to "protest is patriotic???"

Protest is indeed patriotic. Attempting to drown out reasoned discourse and opposing views, which is precisely what the teabaggers are doing, is not.

Leftist are, by far, the least tolerant of diversity - if, by diversity we mean dissenting political opinion.

Sorry, but out here in the real world, it's your side that's trying to drown out "dissenting political opinion." Deal with it.

Posted by: PaulB on August 4, 2009 at 11:58 AM | PERMALINK

People were prevented from entering and or arrested at Bush rallies merely for having the wrong bumper sticker or tee shirt, kept in cages miles from parade routes, and peaceful groups were infiltrated and spied on in the privacy of their own meetings.

My how the world has changed since the last presidency -- you know, the one that WASN'T fascism.

Posted by: trex on August 4, 2009 at 12:56 PM | PERMALINK

Leftists drowned out Bush and Cheney? Really? I'm sorry I missed that, since the leftists in question must have had nuclear-powered megaphones, capable of being heard for miles around.

My own recollection is a series of town hall assemblies that were about as rowdy as Rotary Club meetings, with hard hitting questions something along the lines of "Why do all Democrats hate America, Mr. President?"

Posted by: Mandy Cat on August 4, 2009 at 5:54 PM | PERMALINK

This is what mob rule looks like:


Posted by: Luther on August 5, 2009 at 1:54 AM | PERMALINK

These idiots would hamstring their own grandmothers...and then when they did achieve that end, turn around and cry for Uncle Sam to fix it. They are sheep, easily molded and manipulated by the PR flacks and Lobbyists.

If by greatest nation you mean a nation w/ the highest infant mortality rate, the lowest secondary educational system and one of the lowest life expectancies, then yeah. We work twice as long as everyone else for half as much.

Posted by: johnnymags on August 5, 2009 at 4:14 PM | PERMALINK

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