Politics

The Audacity of Astroturf

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We do requests:

“BTW, is there a reason Donklephant hasn’t covered the violence at various health care forums? Given that fistfights and shouting people down are the ultimate forms of discourse this site seeks to eliminate I thought we’d have a thread by now. For the record my group has been involved in Dingell’s forum. It was pretty clear the anti-Obama folk were there to make sure the forum was ruined, and maybe provoke a fight. Check out the Youtube videos…” – Nick

I’ll try to provide a selection of views from across the political spectrum, but will broaden the topic to a more general primer on the care and feeding of astroturf. First – I am not sure this is the clip Nick was referencing, but expect it is representative:

UPDATE: Nick provided a link in the comments to the specific clip he was referencing. Added:

From the left:
This Kos diarist attended the Dingell Town Hall as a supporter with a “cut to the front of the line” pass, regrets being outnumbered by opponents and concludes they are all insane.

Matt Yglesias explains that the reason irrational opponents outnumber rational supporters at these meetings, is that the rational supporters are waiting to learn what is actually in the bill. Matt is certain that the supporters will outnumber opponents once the bill is out, even though he does not know what will be in the bill.

Boo Man at Booman Tribune thinks it is perfectly fine for protesters to exercise their first amendment rights, unless, of course, they don’t understand what they are protesting. So I guess protesters need to be given a competence test first… or something.

From the administration:
The administration and Democratic leadership weigh in to explain exactly what the opposition is all about.

Robert Gibbs disses the “Brooks Brother Brigade” and calls the opposition “manufactured anger” all paid for by the official administration designated demon of the day (cue scary music) The Insurance Companies.

Barbara Boxer picks up on the sartorial theme, explaining that you can tell the protesters are fake, because – well- they are too well dressed.

Harry Reid waves a piece of astroturf as a prop to dismiss opposition “as phony as this grass.”

Nancy Pelosi agrees that it is all phony astroturf and throws in a few nazi references to boot.

Finally, the DNC runs an ad to make sure everyone knows that the opposition to the President’s healthcare plan are just an ugly angry mob that storms out on to the streets at the beck and call of the RNC- or something.

Not from the left:
Now, I think this kind of partisan political posturing (like astroturfing) is par for the course, pretty much the same old tried and true game of demonizing opposition to rally your team and get your bill passed. Not exactly “hope and change”, more like “same ol’ stuff”, but it doesn’t bother me. It can create problems though – if you don’t finesse it just right.

One problem is when Democrats start believing their own BS. Then you get situations like this – where a Democratic Representative at a town hall meeting calls out one of the “manufactured”, “astroturf”, “hijacker”, “mob” participants that is disrupting the meeting…


… only to later learn the guy asking the question is a Doctor, Democrat, constituent, and is just trying to get a question answered.

Another possible problem is when union members and other Obama supporters (not astroturf – genuine grassroots) spontaneously begin showing up in numbers at Town Hall meetings and take White House rhetoric from political strategists David Axelrod and Jim Messina to “punch back twice as hard” a little too literally.

Not all Democrats are buying into the Axelrod strategy. Claire McCaskill was quick to distance herself from the White House with this tweet:

“I disagree that the people showing concern over some healthcare proposals are “manufactured” Real folks, strong opinions.”

Not sure what she is thinking. Why wouldn’t she want to get on board insulting and belittling her constituents?

The Audacity of Axelrod
This is where it gets almost surreal. We have the administration and leading Democrats throwing the “astroturf” pejorative at Republicans and (cue scary music)The Insurance Companies and yet – the guy who practically invented the term “astroturfing” …The guy who is known as “The Astroturf King”… is none other than Obama’s right hand man and political adviser – David Axelrod.

Recall that prior to the campaign Axelrod was a founding partner in two firms co-located in the same office. One, the political consulting firm hired by the Obama campaign, and the other ASK Public Strategies – the gold standard in astroturf consulting firms (Axelrod is the A in ASK).

The MSM mostly gave him a pass during the campaign as he claimed he was on leave from ASK (while working in the same office for the co-located political consulting firm) and said he had no intention of being part of the administration. I highlighted this relationship during the campaign, when I though it a little too cozy that ATT was a big client of ASK, and Senator Obama conveniently flip-flopped on Telecom Immunity. But nobody really cared about that, so let’s move on.

How about an update now that the Astroturf King is Obama’s right hand man in the White House and his bio has disappeared from ASK’s website?

Per the Sun-Times, when he accepted the position with the administration in January, he “sold” his stake for $3M to be paid out out over 5 years. It was also disclosed that he received a partnership check of $151,914 from ASK in 2008. That was in 2008, when he was on “leave” from ASK. I guess it was a paid leave. So in 2008, ATT money went to ASK and ASK money went to Axelrod. Nothing to see here. Move on.

Let’s walk through this buyout again. ASK Public strategies is a going concern, and will continue to have funds flow from their corporate “astroturf” clients into their coffers. Then money from the ASK coffers will flow into “Astroturf King” David Axelrod’s pockets to compensate him for the buyout over the next five years, -coincidentally- exactly enough time to get past Obama’s first term and election campaign. Of course, by then, he may get tired of politics, and ASK may want sell his share of the partnership right back to him. Who knows? It could happen.

Audacious.


UPDATED
08/10/09: Added video, fixed typos and links
Cross-posted at Divided We Stand United We Fall