The Audacity of Astroturf

The Audacity of Astroturf


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.


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

  • Nick Benjamin

    That clip isn’t the worst one. It got the most airplay, because all the players were in frame, tho.

    In fact that one was pretty good from their point of view. Guy had a question, he asked it, and he got an answer. He was a bit of a dick when he asked (it wasn’t question time yet), and he bitched a lot when he didn’t like the answer (“It’s been amended. I don’t know the page off the top of my head, talk to my staff.”).

    My preferred clip is this one:

    Check out 4:30-5:00. The redhead really is that short, and she’s just trying to tell her story, but you can barely hear her for the booing. And a large man two feet from her insists on wagging his finger in her face.ediately if the Senate would vote for it.

    I’ll have to agree that these folks aren’t astroturf. Misinformed, stubbornly refusing to become informed, and excessively rude yes. Astroturf? No.

  • Nick Benjamin

    My preferred clip did not get posted. Here’s the youtube url if you’re interested:

    I had an ulterior motive for asking about this. On several of the healthcare threads people have wondered why us reformists are in such a hurry. Couldn’t we simply wait a little while to get a better deal?

    IMO these incidents show that waiting won’t improve the program. There are a lot of people out there who will believe any misinformation they’re fed about health care reform, and a lot of very smart folks who are willing to feed them bad info.

    Take that father n the clip mw linked to. He believes that us leftist, commie, give-everyone-stuff-for-free types would actually write a bill that gives his obviously disabled kid nothing. It’s entirely possible some idiot Congressman left that kid out of an initial proposal, but it’s virtually impossible to believe that kid wasn’t put back during mark-up. It is totally impossible to believe that that kid was left out of all six initial committee proposals, was not put back in any of the five proposals that have been passed, and would still be left out after conference committee.

    Every day we wait is another day those dummies have to bitch and moan. Their bitching and moaning helps noone, because the problems they bitch about dob not exist. If they’d shut up long enough for their representatives to tell them what is actually happening that wouldn’t be a huge problem. But they don’t.

    We just tried a modest (one-month) wait specifically so we could talk to people about the proposals. As a result it’s entirely possible that the proposal’ll die, and we’ll be stuck with the current system for another 15 years. Which means more costs and fewer covered.

  • gerryf

    Not sure what your point is MW….that progressives are bad because they want the Right to stop playing Democracy for Dummies?

    Rather than making any real arguments, the leadership on the right is shoveling disinformation at the base and counting on their ignorence to derail healthcare reform.

    If that makes me a bad guy for thinking that people actually be informed before exercising their right to protest, than I guess I am a bad guy.

    American is advanced citizenship, bub.

    It’s taken 30 years for the left to crawl down into the mud and learn from the conservatives and now you’re mad because they’ve wisened up?

    Healthcare reform is all about killing Death Panels ruling on the value of Sarah Palin’s baby? About killing senior citizens? About covering illegal aliens, but rationing healthcare for US citizens? About how inefficient government programs are so keep your hands of medicare? I could go on and on for hours about all the nonsense spewing from the conservative mouthpieces.

    They have made every argument except the only real ones they have–that the current system generates a lot of money and benefits the wealthy the most. Gee, I wonder why they don’t make those arguments but prefer to get the base upset with nonsense instead?

    I welcome any and all contributions to the healthcare debate, but so far the right isn’t making any contribution. This is a serious problem and it will require serious people to solve it.

    I would prefer that the progressives not have to resort to anti-astroturfing. I would prefer that progressives not have to actually sully the argument by trying to tell a distraught father his son will be covered when he has been told over and over his son will not.

    I am personally outraged the Obama administration is cutting backroom deals with Big Pharmaceuticals in order to drive a wedge between the special interest groups that support the worst aspects of the current healthcare system, but if that is the only way we are going to get something down, I guess I will have to live with it.

    This is politics today. This is what the right has been fostering for 30 years. You just don’t like it that the left has learned the lesson the right has been teaching.

  • Chris

    What a crap article mw. You’re blaming the left for political posturing, when obviously these people are manufactured dissenters. They’re being told what to say without knowing what they’re talking about — manufactured.

  • Jim S

    If you google “The Astroturf King”, you can only find that label applied to Axelrod by Obama’s political enemies. Somehow it loses its credibility when you know that, doesn’t it?

  • mw

    I need to edit this post to fix some typo’s and links. I’ll add your preferred clip.

  • mw

    “Not sure what your point is MW…. It’s taken 30 years for the left to crawl down into the mud and learn from the conservatives and now you’re mad because they’ve wisened up?…This is what the right has been fostering for 30 years. You just don’t like it that the left has learned the lesson the right has been teaching.” – gerry

    Just being responsive to the commentariat, gerry. I wouldn’t say I’m “mad” – more like – “amused”. If we agree that there is no difference in political tactics between Bush/Rove and Obama/Axelrod, that both bring an identical “end justifies the means” ethos to their political shenanigans, that both are willing to push every boundary of propriety in the service of their ideological agenda… that point is good enough.

    I do think it is an open question of who is learning from whom in this “debate”:

    * NW Progressive Institute, March 2005: “a boisterous crowd which frequently interrupted the discussion with shouts and hard nosed questions. … Democrats in the audience who were interrupting the panel…. the crowd erupted in anger… Democrats in the audience started shouting him down again.”

    * Savannah Morning News, March 2005 : “By now, Jack Kingston is used to shouted questions, interruptions and boos. Republican congressmen expect such responses these days when they meet with constituents about President Bush’s proposal to overhaul Social Security.”

    * USA Today, March 2005 : “Shaken by raucous protests at open “town hall”-style meetings last month … Santorum was among dozens of members of Congress who ran gantlets of demonstrators and shouted over hecklers at Social Security events last month. Many who showed up to protest were alerted by e-mails and bused in by anti-Bush organizations such as and USAction, a liberal advocacy group. They came with prepared questions and instructions on how to confront lawmakers.”

    H/T Henke

  • mw

    I don’t know Jim. Did it lose credibility when I used “Bush’s Brain” to describe Karl Rove? I’m happy to be on the David Axelrod “political enemies” list. Just like I was happy to be on Karl Roves.

  • rob

    Those opposed to the administration are un-American idiots, those supporting the administration are right-minded patriots.

    Dems are the new Rebups, Obama is the new Bush and the party apologists never took off their partisan blinders.

    Same as it ever was.

  • Chris

    rob, have you been to a magical land full of administration supporters? I live in one of the most liberal cities in the country, and we’re not a bunch of blind supporters. If this were 7 years ago, people would be screaming in the streets at the protesters, or whatever they want to call themselves.