Thursday, August 27, 2009

Right-wing town hall: still "astroturf" to me

A town hall meeting was held in Madison last night to discuss the issue of health care reform in the U.S. The event had between one to two thousand in attendance, with most voicing dissatisfaction with the Democratic proposals for reform (though some brave souls did come out to state their support, too).

The event was billed as open to all, with an invitation sent to Rep. Tammy Baldwin to make an appearance. Baldwin, however, declined, and its understandable why: the town hall wasn't meant to be a true open forum -- it was designed primarily for people to voice their opposition to the proposals made in Washington, without much room for persuasion among the people in attendance.

The event was set up by Americans for Prosperity, a right-wing organization that helped organize the "Tea Party" demonstrations across the country earlier this year. ABC's John Stossel and former Rep. Scott Klug were also on hand, creating a conservative-triumvirate (conservative media, politician, and organization) that would have been anything but accommodating to progressive speakers like Baldwin.

Those two speakers in particular, citing the size of the crowd, scoffed at the notion that such events were examples of "astroturf" movements, a term coined by the left to describe fake grassroots campaigns orchestrated by the right in recent months.

I wasn't in attendance at the event, so any speculation about what went down is just that: speculation. However, judging from the behavior of people at other town hall meetings in recent weeks, it's a safe bet that a lot of what was talked about was probably misinformation on the proposed bills rather than true statements on what reform would mean for the average person in the room last night.

I base that judgment in part due to another event that I DID attend: the Tea Party protest that was held in Madison. As mentioned before, the same organization that organized the event last night also organized the Tea Party on April 15. While I was there, I saw dozens, if not hundreds, of signs that made many incorrect assumptions on Obama and his economic policies (including the belief that the president isn't a naturally-born citizen of the United States...and that, of course, he is the anti-Christ).

Now, again, I could be completely wrong; I wasn't there. If I am wrong, I welcome anyone reading this who DID attend the event to correct me. But my basic intuition is telling me that the event held last night was probably more like a campaign town hall meeting rather than a grassroots one. With two more stops in Wisconsin alone, that comparison isn't too far off.

The right-wing fear campaign is still going strong, and unfortunately, it seems to be working: nearly half of all Americans believe in the "death panels" lie, among others. If that many Americans now consider the lies on health care to be truths, then we're in for some serious trouble.

The public needs to be informed, not scared into opposition. As I've stated in the past, the right could bring up many reasonable talking points in this debate -- but instead, they've opted to "swift boat" health care reform, hoping unsubstantiated fears can defeat Obama and Democrats in Washington.

Which begs the question: can you really trust a side of a debate that would rather scare you than inform you? Personally, I'm going to support the side that provides the most concrete facts and figures, not the one that lies to my face about made-up issues like death panels or funding for abortion. For that reason, the movement by the right to defeat health care reform -- even if supported by misinformed citizens -- is still an astroturf movement.

A movement that is created through falsehoods and lies still lacks legitimacy in my book.

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