It looks like the TeaBaggers and the astroturf groups that created them are at it again in Wisconsin. Taking a cue from the events in Texas and elsewhere, a big crowd disrupted Rep. Steve Kagen's town meeting in Green Bay last night, and will no doubt turn out again in big numbers in Appleton tonight to shout down any semblance of civilized discourse. Fox Valley blogger Jeremy Shown has a useful three part eyewitness post on the Green Bay event here.
I could closely survey at least one quarter of the auditorium and from what I could see there were only two people in that area that were willing to clap or shout in support of Kagen. The rest were clearly against anything that Kagen had to say. Many of these felt no reluctance to shout during both the questions and answers. Sometimes the outbursts included pleas to leave health care alone or to read the bill, sometimes they would accuse Kagen of lying outright.
While Shown's account portrays the anger as spontaneous, there are signs that point to national organizations connected to the insurance industry and the Republican Party. Greg Sargent tracks the efforts to the astroturf group Conservatives for Patients' Rights:
CPR is the group headed by controversial former hospitals exec Rick Scott that’s spending millions on ads attacking reform in all sorts of lurid ways, a campaign that’s being handled by the same P.R. mavens behind the Swift Boat Vets.
In response to my questions, a spokesman for the group confirmed that it has undertaken a concerted effort to get people out to the town hall meetings to protest reform. The spokesperson, Brian Burgess, confirmed that CPR is emailing out “town hall alert” flyers, and schedules of town hall meetings, to its mailing list.
These efforts — combined with CPR’s effort to enlist Tea Party-ers, as reported yesterday by TPM — provide a glimpse into the ways anti-reform groups are trying to create a sense of public momentum in their favor.
CPR spokesman Burgess confirmed that the group had set up a list serv designed to reach out to “third party groups” involved in the health care fight, including the Tea Party activists. And in a statement emailed to me, Scott, who was ousted as a health-care exec amid a 1990s fraud probe, took credit for the town hall showings.
“We have invested a lot of time, energy and resources into educating Americans over the past several months about the dangers of government-run health care and I think we’re seeing some of the fruits of that campaign,” Scott said, though he claimed outrage was spontaneous.
Talking Points Memo also has a note from a "Republican pal under deep cover:
That's what happened during Florida: The "blame" was on the "chaos" created by the "unfair" counting methods brought on by Al Gore's call for "selective" counting. No blame was focused on the young GOP activists upsetting the process.
THAT seems to me to be the comparison that Obama supporters should be on the lookout for this summer.
You can say this came from a Republican friend -- but not by name. ;-)
The White House got the memo also. From this morning's presser:
GIBBS: NO, I get asked every day about the myriad of things that could be derailing our message. I would point out that I don't know what all those guys were doing, what were they called, the Brooks Brothers Brigade in Florida in 2000, appear to have rented a similar bus and are appearing together at town hall meetings throughout the country...
Q: The grassroots what?
GIBBS: The Astro Turf nature of grassroots lobbying, which is largely the term for, you know, this is manufactured anger.
- Barry Orton