8 a.m. ET: Just as the White House is increasing its focus on Web-based grass-roots activism in hopes of boosting support for health-care reform, the on-the-ground tactics of reform opponents have become a subject of heated debate.
As the congressional recess begins, liberal blogs and activists have been highlighting the disruptive behavior of protesters at Democrats' town-hall events on health care. ThinkProgress last week posted a leaked memo from a volunteer affiliated with the conservative group FreedomWorks urging activists to "rattle" and "yell out" at Democratic lawmakers, "not try to have an intelligent debate." Democrats call them "“angry mobs of rabid right-wing extremists," similar to the more controversial attendees at McCain-Palin campaign rallies last year. The DNC is spreading Web ads highlighting the protesters' most disruptive tactics.
Josh Marshall mocks the demonstrations, writing: "with all the antics and ferocity, let's be honest, it's hard to deny there's a certain Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show quality to the whole scene." Democrats say they are prepared for the disruptions but don't plan to escalate tensions by fighting back aggressively, preferring to let the GOP tactics be judged on their own.
But Republicans say Democrats are simply trying to change the subject, attempting to steer the media's focus toward a few loud-mouthed protesters rather than the big-picture evidence that support is slipping for President Obama's reform efforts. James Taranto writes, "It’s easy to understand why the Democrats are pursuing this rhetorical strategy, but it is a risky one. ... Angry mobs are at best an acquired taste. But an awful lot of people have misgivings about ObamaCare. According to some polls, opponents already outnumber supporters. That means Democrats have a lot of persuading to do." RedState sarcastically notes the courage of one Democratic lawmaker, who ran out the back door of his own event "like a scared little bunny rabbit" rather than face protesters.
There is no question that there exists significant opposition at the GOP grassroots level to Obama's plans for reform. There's also no question that Washington-based "astroturf" groups, likely funded by stakeholders in the health-care industry and business community, are trying to stir the pot by making that opposition appear even more prevalent and vocal than it is. That's what astroturf groups do. Will their tactics be disruptive enough that Democrats will shy away from holding some events in August? Or might the most extreme examples help link health-care protests in the public mind with "birthers" and other fringe segments of the GOP? The answers will be a lot clearer by the end of August.
Obama is urging Senate Democrats to move forward on health care soon, with or without the cooperation of Republicans. The president, Roll Call reports, has been "hosting dozens of lawmakers at the White House since the middle of July in an outburst of personal presidential diplomacy designed to prod legislation toward a vote." As for Tuesday's meeting at the White House, Max Baucus called it "a wonderful meeting, led by a terrific man." Lobbyists are still flocking to the Senate this week, the Wall Street Journal reports, the leading edge of an all-out blitz on reform for August.
Bill Clinton, meanwhile, is due to arrive in California this morning with the two journalists he helped free from North Korea. The Washington Post asserts the transaction gave Kim Jong Il "a thin slice of the international legitimacy that has long eluded him." (The story also notes that North Korea "rejected the administration's first choice for the trip," Al Gore, whose Current TV employs the two journalists. Adding insult to injury, no?) The New York Times reports that Hillary Clinton was "deeply involved in the case" as well as her husband, and that it was she who first proposed that Gore go to North Korea. For his part, John Bolton was not a fan of the trip, calling it "a significant propaganda victory for North Korea."
On the Hill, the Senate is on track to approve two items before leaving town for recess -- Sonia Sotomayor's nomination to the Supreme Court, and a $2 billion funding boost for the "cash for clunkers" program. On Sotomayor, Senate Republicans have presented a mostly united front against the nominee, seemingly unconcerned about a possible backlash from Hispanic voters. Even though her confirmation appears assured, Stuart Taylor is still trying to figure out why Sotomayor ruled the way she did in the Ricci case.
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