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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Reich: Astroturfers Protests Lack Roots

In his Robert Reich’s Blog, via TomPaine.com, the former Secretary of Labor has a richly-deserved smackdown for the “astroturfer” protests dogging health care meetings now being held in congressional districts. As Reich describes the protests:

This isn’t grass roots. It’s Astroturf. The vans carry the logo “Americans for Prosperity,” one of the Washington front groups orchestrating the fight against universal health. They’re using Congress’s August recess to heckle Democratic representatives when they meet with their constituents, stage erszatz local anti-universal health rallies, and fill home-town media with carefully-crafted, market-tested messages demonizing healthcare reform.
The Republican party’s fingerprints are all over this. FreedomWorks, another group now Astroturfing its way around America, is chaired by former House Republican Leader Dick Armey. Texas Republican Pete Sessions, who chairs the National Republican Campaign Committee, says the days of civil town halls are “now over.” Key Republican funders are forking out big bucks. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, whose ties to the GOP are legion, announced in June it would “develop a sweeping national advocacy campaign encompassing advertising, education, political activities, new media and grassroots organizing” to battle universal health and other Democratic initiatives.

Reich says the protests are more about political opportunism than genuine convictions about health care policy:

Republicans have no other strategy. They can’t attack Obama personally because he’s just too popular. They’ve been incapable of coming up with their own plan for healthcare reform. The biggest healthcare interest groups — the AMA, private insurers, and Big Pharma — have publicly backed the major healthcare initiatives coming from congressional Democrats (although, I suspect, are quietly supporting the Republicans’ Astroturf blitz). Their “tea parties” in April were a flop. Their poll numbers are awful. Their major loudmouths — Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannnity, and Dick Cheney — are not exactly attractive to most Americans. Their biggest nightmare, Sarah Pallin, is already on the campaign trail for 2012.

Despite all the bluster and publicity, Reich believes the astroturfers are doomed insofar as stopping health care reform altogether. But there is cause for concern about their effect on weaker-willed Democratic members of congress:

But this Republican strategy will fail. 2010 will not be 1994. There’s too much momentum behind universal health care right now to stop it. Yet the Republicans’ fake grass-roots campaign may cause some Democratic lawmakers to become even more nervous about universal health care than they already are, or at least give them an excuse to duck when it comes time to vote in September. The result will be a watered-down set of reforms that still leave millions of Americans uninsured and don’t slow healthcare costs. This is why Obama has to fight for this so hard over the August recess, why he has to be far more specific about what he wants in the bill, and why he can’t afford any more diversions — like the beer summit, or economic advisors who seem to open the door to middle-class tax increases.

if President Obama can stay on point, find more ways to tap his speechmaking skills in service to health care reform and mobilize the network of activists that helped to elect him, the astroturfers will find their rightful place as a minor footnote in the story of the successful struggle to bring genuine health security to America.

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