Friday, August 7, 2009

Grassroots, You Say? Hardly ...

While most of the mainstream media has done a good job of recognizing that the outrage in health care town hall protests is faked on the part of right-wing supporters and health care companies, no one has tackled the issue quite like MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, who has devoted significant time to her last three shows on the subject.

And yes, I do cite her show and offer clips in this blog a lot. Her show is one of the most informative on cable news right now, and her intelligence, matched with her wit and keen eye for the truth, makes it a must-watch for anyone who wants to go a little further than watching guys in suits yell at each other for an hour.

Chris Mathews, I'm looking at you ...

Anyway, Maddow devoted a large chunk of her show Thursday night to the topic of health care town hall protests, hammering home the point once again that these are not actual concerned citizens staging these protests. Between jokes of lynching to a Maryland Congressman being hung in effigy, between Congressmen being shouted down as they try to talk to their constituents to Washington Rep. Brian Baird canceling all town hall meetings during his recess, this is a serious issue.

Not just in terms of personal safety for the Congressmen and other involved, but for the safety of democracy itself. Town halls are a hallmark of the democratic process (lowercase d, and yes, there is a difference) -- Thomas Jefferson was a fan of them, as is John McCain today.

Aside: Props to John McCain for denouncing the protestors and their tactics. But ... over Twitter? Really? I'm impressed the Senator from Arizona even knows what Twitter is.

Anyway, to become so loud and beligerent that you refuse a concerned citizen the right to share his or her concerns harms our democractic process. These meetings were designed for everyday Americans to share their questions and concerns with their Congressmen, and for these "grassroots" protestors to shout all that down with their hatred and their outrageous rhetoric ... it's a wonder we haven't yet seen more episodes like Thursday in Tampa.

Anyway, here's Rep. Baird talking to Maddow Thursday night about the protestors.

Her coverage didn't stop there, though. She also spent a segment talking about Rick Scott, a former ally of George W. Bush and head of Conservatives for Patients' Rights. Scott, as you may know, got blasted on-air earlier Thursday by CNN's Rick Sanchez. I wonder if FOX News will twitter about it ...

Video of Maddow talking about Scott:

After taking on Scott, Maddow was (surprisingly) joined by Tim Phillips, the National President of Americans For Prosperity, yet another group against health care reform. Phillips tried to convince Maddow -- and her viewers -- that the disruptions and protests were genuine, despite all the evidence to the contrary.

Even more amazingly, Phillips asked, on-air, for corporate donors (cause that really helps the cause of sticking up for the common man). He also asked Maddow to join him at one of the rallies in the future, despite the obvious conflict of interest that would be for her, considering Americans for Prosperity's connections.

Watch for yourself. I do so enjoy watching slime wriggle in discomfort.

For the most part, I've avoided talking about the protestors and their fake outrage for much the same reasons I've ignored the birther conspiracy and the Crowley-Gates incident. They were horribly off-message for one thing; with health care reform of such importance right now, spending significant amounts of time on the birthers or the Gates controversy did no one any good -- except for reform opponents.

It's far less important to me that health insurance advocates are shouting at Congressmen than it is to know exactly how much money these elected officials are receiving from the industry. Right-wingers screaming about Kenya and birth certificates matter far less than whatever bill comes out of the Senate Finance Committee. Rush Limbaugh comparing President Obama and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to Hitler adds nothing substantive to a very important discussion.

Which is exactly what the Republicans and insurance advocates want. They want to change the subject, because they know they'll lose if they don't. A recent poll suggested 39 percent of Republicans wanted more coverage of the birthers on the news -- because more time spent talking about Obama's birth certificate is less time talking about health care reform.

The longer we stare at the angry mobs disrupting town hall meetings, the less time we spend discussing potential bills and what happens to this debate once the August recess is over. I've tried over the past few weeks to stay on-message when it comes to health care reform, and it appears that I'm one of few doing so.

In the age of the Internet and 24-hour cable news, it's easy to get distracted. Health care reform opponents know that, and they're trying to do everything they can to distract us. It's up to us to fight back with facts; we have to refuse to back down from the "angry" protestors and we have to ignore the wacky conspiracy theories.

Forged Kenyan birth certficates are not important. Ensuring quality, affordable health care for all is.

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