Thursday, September 17, 2009

"Grassroots" Astroturf

This past weekend, a gaggle of demonstrators descended on the nation's capitol to protest... something. They'd been organized by the same well-financed astroturf orgs that have been behind pretty much all of the major anti-Obama demonstrations to date, and, during the proceedings, Matt Kibbe, the president of Freedom Works (the major astroturfer involved), took to the stage to proclaim that, according to ABC News, the rally had drawn 1.5 million people. Within a short period, right-wing Twits and creatures like Michelle Malkin had escalated that figure to 2 million, and it had circulated around the world. As it turned out, of course, Kibbe had lied. There was no such ABC News report. There was no such estimate. Malkin, the Twits, and the rest had taken Kibbe's lie--an astroturf lie--and inflated it by another half a million. The actual turnout for the event was a modest 60,000-70,000. Amusingly enough, the buzz, throughout this week, has been a sustained whine from the right about how the corporate press didn't take this event seriously enough.[*]

These astroturf "protests" are culturally significant, just not in the way the complainers would have you believe. They're noteworthy because they point to the social cancer that is the Bubble People phenomenon on the right. They also point to the fact that this--a very large segment of the population--can be organized relatively easily by well-financed astroturf groups and made to look, on the surface, a lot like a real grassroots mass movement. That's what astroturf movements exist to do. This has been perhaps the biggest success story of their history.

Those on the right, even some otherwise thoughtful voices, have tended to defend the protests as legitimate expressions of grassroots unrest, either setting aside their artificial origins or arguing those origins are irrelevant. Such arguments aren't even close to sustainable, though. This illusion of a movement lacks anything that would remotely resemble a program, above and beyond "WE HATE BARACK OBAMA!", screamed to the heavens with equal measures of vigor and froth. The tea-baggers, the townhall disrupters, the capitol marchers--what exactly is their program? That they're furious about "death panels" and illegal alien coverage in the health care bill? That they're furious a man who isn't a U.S. citizen, and probably even a Muslim, is being allowed to be President? That the administration is trying to implement socialism or fascism or some other black -ism? It's all just nonsense, a tapestry of falsehood spun for the purposes of organizing those who have been conditioned in such a way as to remove their capacity for critical thought, when it comes to the voices inside their closed bubble. This illusion of a movement has no goals, it has no program, it doesn't even have a central organizing principle other than irrational Obama hatred. And, of course, the further implication of this is that, as a "grassroots" movement, it can't really lead to anything, either, except maybe getting Barack Obama shot by some unhinged right-wing nutcase "patriot" who thinks he's saving us all from the next Hitler.

That isn't to say the astroturfers behind all of this don't have very definite goals. As they've stated, their big one, at present, is to defeat any health care reform. Create the illusion of a mass movement to scare those in congress and get lots of press doing it, which provides an ever-expanding platform for spreading further misinformation that turns public sentiment. This is what they're paid to do. This is what they've proven remarkably effective at doing this year.

This is what the "protests" are, what's behind them, why they're significant. This is not, however, how they're covered by the corporate press. If anyone has cause to complain about that coverage, it isn't those who have been doing the complaining this week.



[*] In a related story, the Wall Street Journal reported that Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX) has just "released a letter he sent to Washington’s Metro system complaining that the taxpayer-funded subway system was unable to properly transport protesters to the rally to protest government spending and expansion." As it that wasn't enough, Brady, himself, voted against funding for the Metro system earlier this year.

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