Who Lit The Fire Under the Right-Wing ‘Populists’ Against Healthcare Reform?

obamacareBy now, we’ve all seen the angry “regular Americans” who are rising up to resist health-care reform. They are demonstrating loudly at town hall meetings. They are holding rallies. They are e-mailing all their friends and family about the absolute horrors that will accompany any gov’t run program of Obama-Care.

Who are these people? Where did they come from? Is this really how Americans feel about healthcare reform?

I started digging a little into organizing strategy behind this “grassroots” movement and found … wait for it … Ralph Reed!

You remember Ralph from the Christian Coalition, right? He was the political strategist for the far-right Republican wing and handed the political far-Right a “faith-based” cover for their political agenda. More recently, he ran for Lieutenant Governor of Georgia in 2006 but lost due his involvement in the Abramoff Indian gaming and Congressional bribery scandal. In 1997, Ralph started Century Strategies, a political consulting firm for Republican candidates and causes. His clients have included Enron, online gambling companies, Indian gambling firms, and the cable industry to fight decency standards proposed in Congress.

So, when far-right political operatives and insurance industry giants wanted to defeat major health-care reform, who did they call? Their old buddy Ralph Reed.

Ralph’s friend, and former Century Strategies’ business exec, Tim Phillips, was tasked to head up Americans for Prosperity, a right-wing PR firm funded primarily by Koch Industries (global energy firm that runs coal plants, agribusiness, major oil refineries, etc. Papa Koch was a card-carrying member of the John Birch Society, according to BusinessWeek). AFP is part of a handful of corporate industry front-groups that are leading the propoganda campaign against health-care reform. AFP’s health-care targeted subsidiary is called Patients First. PF is launching bus tours against health-care reform right now. It’s AFP who brought you “Joe the Plumber,” the “Drill, Baby, Drill” rallies, the “tea-bagging parties” (ahem), and most recently the “Survivor” TV ad with the Canadian woman who had to sneak into the US to get her cancer treated, because “in Canada, treatment is delayed or denied.” Wrong.

Here are a few of the groups: Club for Growth is a right-wing lobbying organization that represents the Wall Street elite.  RecessRally.com is the network getting people out to the townhall meetings. It’s a subsidiary of the American Liberty Alliance, whose excutive director is Eric Odom, a far-right media strategist and president of Strategic Activism, his online political strategizing company. RecessRally is networked with American Majority, a right-wing non-profit that is staffed primarily with conservative Christians who came out of the Bush administration and the Generation Joshua project (a Christian youth league training students in conservative activism).

So, that’s a rough roundup of who’s leading the so-called “populist uprising.” As Rachel Maddow said in her excellent expose, “Corporate interests do this ‘fake grassroots’ movement as an industry. This is a professional PR campaign to line their own pockets. It is professional, corporate-funded Republican PR  and should be named and reported as such.”

I recommend reading Lee Fang’s article Tim Phillips, The Man Behind The “Americans For Prosperity” Corporate Front Group Factory. And, in the interest of full disclosure, Fang works for the Center for American Progress, a think-tank full of operatives for the Dems. But Lee is a really good researcher. Here’s a bit of his article:

The rate at which the Koch Industries funded Americans for Prosperity (AFP) churns out front groups to promote its right-wing corporate agenda sets the organization out among similar conservative “think tanks.” This week, AFP created their latest front group called “Patients United Now,” an entity set up to defeat health care reform. Patients United follows a familiar pattern AFP has used for their other front groups: create a new stand alone website, fill it with lines like “We are people just like you” to give the site a grassroots feel, and then use the new group to recruit supporters and run deceptive advertisements attacking reform.

Access to adequate health care is a human right. Human rights generally are antagonistic to corporate interests. As people of faith we are called to stand up for human dignity and human rights. Now would be a good time to go ahead and shine the Light on these corporate con artists, especially the one’s masquerading as Christians.

6 responses to “Who Lit The Fire Under the Right-Wing ‘Populists’ Against Healthcare Reform?”

  1. I am a public health nurse advisor working for the Massachusetts Department of Public Health in a program that provides preventive health screening as well as education to the underserved in communities throughout Massachusetts. I am also a Christian involved daily in the lives of others and living in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Can I encourage you to look at this site for a side by side comparison of health care reform from Kaiser who puts out excellent information and regularly updates the site. I also encourage all your readers to look at this article which is one of the clearest I have read as the debate moves on but not necessarily forward.
    Also can I just say I am really depressed that Sojourners actually calls their blog “God’s Politics” . Isn’t that one of the problems of today? Everyone on both sides is completely convinced that they speak for God? It’s an excellent blog with clear articles by thinking people – but “God’s Politics” as a title is a little hard to swallow.

  2. Dear William–
    Thanks for taking the time to respond to my blog post. You are quite correct in saying that everyone at the meetings speaking out against healthcare reform is not controlled by Ralph Reed. And you are also quite right in saying that the Left has been guilty of similar tactics.

    I disagree however with your point that “Sojourners is not about to go into the details of this plan.” Actually, we are. We are trying to stay as up to date on the details as possible and using all our expertise and influence to push for a plan that is respectful of life and human dignity. Right now, the Hyde Amendment is still in effect and there is very strong bi-partisan commitment to keep it that way.

    However, there is a difference between barely funded non-profits organizing around issues at the grassroots and industry-funded fronts organizing the grassroots to to push for national legislation that will raise the profits in their personal for-profit coffers. And, in my estimation, throwing the poor under the bus in order to do it.

    We bring our passions to these issues. Thanks for sharing yours with me.

    R. Berger

  3. Strange justice

    When I read Rose Marie Berger’s blog post Who Lit the Fire Under the Right-Wing ‘Populists’ Against Healthcare Reform? I had a flashback to the discomfort that made me stop reading the book Strange Justice: The Selling of Clarence Thomas, by Jane Mayer and Jill Abramson, some years ago.

    Strange Justice infuriated me, but not because of the sexual harassment alleged by Anita Hill. That was bad, but I kept reading through that part. I became angry enough to put the book down when I read that leaders of a Christian organization were busing people in from out of town to attend rallies in support of Thomas—specifically to create the illusion that there was local support for his nomination. I believe the organizer behind these events was Ralph Reed. (If someone has a copy of the book, I’d be glad if they could check me on these details.)

    If a cause is right, truth should be the means of persuasion.

  4. Somehow, I seriously doubt that everyone at these meetings who is speaking against the White House medical plan is controlled by Ralph Reed. In fact, I could just as easily argue that your post is nothing more than talking points from the White House. After all, why do I suddenly see the Usual Suspects all at the same time writing the “these protesters are illegitimate” columns that are curiously the same all the way to the “fake grassroots” slogans?

    For that matter, I have had to deal with ACORN protesters in the past, and I can say that as I watched upper-middle class whites choreograph the “outrage” from the protesters (who generally were poor and African-American), I can tell you a thing or two about contrived protests.

    One thing for sure is that Sojourners is not about to go into the details of this plan. Yes, it will include government-funded abortions, and, yes, it will deny care to the elderly. All one has to do is to read what Ezekiel Emmanuel, Rahm’s brother, and an influential person in this process has written publicly about denying elderly care.

    Just because Jim Wallis says “it won’t” means nothing. Basically, you are saying that anyone who disagrees with you is evil. Well, guess what? Why are you shocked, SHOCKED when others do what you and your people have done for years, and that is organize and engage in choreographed protests?

  5. Hi Rose,
    Thanks for your insightful article and for “doing a little digging”. It is very disturbing to see angry and disruptive people all over the news holding town hall meetings hostage while the meetings are meant to help foster openness and understanding and truth. Romans comes to mind as they seem “willing to trade the truth for a lie”. Prayer is definitely in order.

  6. Rose – I like how Steve Webber said it:
    “The division is clear. It is, finally, right versus wrong. And on this side of the division we declare:

    it is wrong to for a modern, wealthy country to not provide all its citizens with health care.

    It is wrong to not provide better education.

    It is wrong to go to war unilaterally.

    It is wrong to cater to corporate interests when ordinary people are disadvantaged and struggling.

    It is wrong to cater to radical, ignorant, religious zealotry and to give it a place at the table when it should be banned to the fringes.

    It is wrong to foster a distrust of progress.

    It is wrong to have a fear of “otherness.”

    It is wrong to perpetuate institutionalized racism.

    It is wrong to deny science and to avoid culpability in the polluting of our planet.

    These are the things a thinking, modern, progressive nation stands for. Those on the other side of the divide — well, we’ve seen what they believe in. And, sadly, we’ve lived it.”

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