John Eby: Campaign to kill health care reform not exactly secretPublished 11:02am Monday, September 21, 2009
Although I could smell an August Swift-Boating like the one I saw destroy Sen. John Kerry’s White House ambitions five summers ago.
Maybe you actually believe these orchestrated angry mobs passionately spouting conservative talking points, from socialism to higher taxes and illegal immigration, and taking over town hall forums sprang up spontaneously. If you do, cut back on your Fox consumption or balance it with some CNN or MSNBC (Keith Olbermann!)
There’s a lot going on under the radar while Glenn and Sean and Bill rant to distraction about ACORN.
Even folks who insist with straight faces that it’s coincidence that all these angry Americans coalesced at this moment in time to vent about the stimulus bill, the bailout and the economy and the imminent government takeover of health care.
Tim Dickinson in the Oct. 1 Rolling Stone connects some of the dots I sensed in my gut but couldn’t quantify with data with “internal documents obtained” from at least four conservative groups working as “coalition partners.”
“Far from representing a spontaneous upwelling of populist rage,” Dickinson writes, “the protests were tightly orchestrated from the top down by corporate-funded front groups as well as top lobbyists for the health care industry. Call it the return of the Karl Rove playbook.”
You know, the cynical document which exploits the fear and loathing of ordinary conservatives to further the unquenchable greed of corporate America.
So, no wonder it was reminiscent of the tarring of a decorated Vietnam war hero in 2004.
It’s even the same conservative dream team that shredded Kerry, smeared John McCain in 2000 (portraying the Arizona senator’s adopted daughter as his mulatto love child), scripted GOP obstructionism on global warming and sank the first health care reform Sen. Hillary Clinton led in 1993.
“The insurance industry is up to the same devious PR practices it has used for many years to kill reform,” says Wendell Potter, who until stepping down last year served as chief of corporate communications for health insurance giant CIGNA.
“I’m certain that people showing up at these town halls feel that they’re there on their own – but they don’t realize they’re being incited, ultimately by the insurance industry and the other special interests.”
Behind the scenes, the magazine identifies top Republicans working with townhall organizers as House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, Minority Leader John Boehner and Jim DeMint, chairman of the GOP’s Senate steering committee.
Their goal is reportedly to not only block health care reform, but to bankrupt President Obama’s political capital before he can move on to other key items on his agenda, such as climate change.
This whole plot reads like a recent history book, with a script by Frank Luntz, pollster for Newt Gingrich’s 1994 Contract on America.
It’s not an accident that conservatives couch health care in such terms as “Washington takeover.” They test well with focus groups.
Luntz wrote in a May memo, “Takeovers are like coups – they both lead to dictators and a loss of freedom.” Luntz’s advice on how best to play the fear card: “It is essential that ‘deny’ and ‘denial’ enter the conservative lexicon immediately because it is the core of what scares Americans most about a government takeover of health care” – that a Washington bureaucrat will deny a procedure or a medication.
If you were listening, you also know this strategy wasn’t extreme enough for some, who further claimed Washington wanted “death panels” to pull the plug on granny.
The woman who drafted this made similar claims in 1993, when the world’s largest tobacco company, Philip Morris, was intent on derailing Clinton’s health care reform measure because it relied on a hike in tobacco taxes.
My jaw further dropped as I read that two of the primary groups mobilizing town-hall protests grew out of the 2003 breakup of one integral in defeating Hillarycare.
Philip Morris reportedly paid that group to engineer a “grassroots” revolt against health care reform by staging demonstrations in home districts of key congressmen. Deja vu!
“The goal,” states a memo, “is to show the Clinton plan as a government-run health care system replete with higher taxes … rationing of care and extensive bureaucracies.”
This time around optional Medicare end-of-life counseling was stepped up to a genocide comparison: “Adolf Hitler issued 6 million ‘end of life orders.’ He called his program the Final Solution. I kinda of wonder what we’re going to call ours,” mused an August speaker in Colorado.
One of the leaders in the current fight against reform Rolling Stone identifies as a front group for two oil billionaires who co-own the world’s largest private oil and gas conglomerate. They have ties to GOP activists who disrupted the Bush-Gore recount in Miami-Dade County.
Another group is headed by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey.
One group was founded by the former CEO of the world’s largest hospital conglomerate.
For overbilling taxpayers for Medicare treatment, it paid $1.7 billion in penalties.
He now runs a chain of urgent-care clinics that serve uninsured Americans afraid of being bankrupted by ER visits.
He hired the same PR firm that carried out the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth campaign against Kerry in 2004.
Tea Party patriots even have a written playbook coaching how less than three dozen activists can silence a U.S. congressman:
“The goal is to rattle him. Yell out and challenge the Rep’s statements … have someone else follow-up with a shout-out. Set the tone for the hall as clearly informal and free-wheeling. It will also embolden others who agree with us to call out.”
In July, according to the Congressional Record, congressmen used the word takeover 273 times and bureaucrat 179 times, compared to about a dozen times each in May before Luntz’s memo.
To sum up, support for the president’s handling of health care plunged 17 percent among independents, seniors believe by a 3-1 margin that Obamacare would reduce their access to health services and the jubilant GOP is talking about retaking the House next year.
Only Democrats could let this happen while holding majorities in both houses of Congress.
John Eby is Daily News managing editor. E-mail him at john.eby @leaderpub.com.