Remember the vast rightwing conspiracy? It’s ba-a-a-ck, turning its considerable resources to ruining health care reform and wrecking legislation aimed at curbing climate change.
Despite the insistence of Republican leaders that the tea-party crowd and the town-hall protestors are merely concerned individuals who have spontaneously made the decision to shout and yell threats at public meetings, the protests are, in fact, prodded by networks of conservative activists. Richard Mellon Scaife, a Pittsburg billionaire who is the financial lifeblood of ultra-conservative activism, is a contributor, according to The Washington Post.
That’s not to deny the individual anger or anxiety on display on cable TV. Hardcore conservatives are quite unhappy, some over proposals for health care reform, many others over a wider range of policies and positions they associate with the Obama administration. If conservative voters weren’t already upset by cultural and political changes, they wouldn’t turn out, no matter how much they were urged on by networks of activists.
But urged they are, by old voices with the same old names, like Rush Limbaugh, or familiar conservatives, like former GOP congressman Dick Armey, now associated with a lesser-known outfit called Freedom Works, a conservative Washington-based advocacy group . Freedom Works has been heavily involved in turning out critics at town-hall meetings on health care reform; it’s Web site, urging raucous protests, features a quote from Armey; “If you are going to go ugly, go ugly early,” according to the Post.
In a 1998 TV interview, then-First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton famously blamed a “vast rightwing conspiracy” for the problems she and her husband faced, especially after his dalliance with Monica Lewinsky.
The controversies that engulfed the First Couple weren’t exclusively the work of political enemies, of course; the Clintons provided some of the raw material. But it’s also true that wealthy rightwingers like Scaife tried their best to spoil Bill Clinton’s presidency.
Now they’re trying to spoil Obama’s. GOP Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) gave away his goal when he declared, last month, “If we are to stop Obama on (health care reform), it would be his Waterloo. It will break him.” Many of his fellow travelers have been more discreet, concealing their deep-seated ideological enmity underneath rhetoric about fiscal responsibility (a concern they rarely showed during the Bush years) or fear of “socialism.”
But ideologues like DeMint and Newt Gingrich have made it pretty clear that they’re not interested in finding the best approach on public policy or in helping Americans cope with skyrocketing health care costs. They just want to win political battles.
Some of the conservatives arrayed against Obama represent corporate interests. Armey’s FreedomWorks, for example, is funded by companies such as Philip Morris, which has fought government regulations on smoking for years now.
A conservative advocacy group called Americans for Prosperity, long known for denying the scientific findings on climate change, has started an offshoot called Patients First to fight health care reform. The Post reports that it receives funding from the Koch Foundation, affliated with a huge Kansas-based oil-and-gas conglomerate called Koch Industries. (Koch owns Georgia Pacific.) The Koch Foundation undoubtedly believes that slowing Obama down on health care reform will help to defeat his energy bill, which aims to curb carbon emissions and would affect Koch’s businesses.
There is nothing unusual about either the efforts of corporatists to protect their interests or the enmity toward government from ultra-conservatives. But there does seem to be something unusual about the raging paranoia and sheer lunacy from some of the protestors, especially those who have found it necessary to carry guns to rallies. If they are not threatening violent opposition, why bring guns?
Their paranoia is clear from their eagerness to believe the loopiest theories about the Obama administration, including the patently false notion that health reform legislation includes “death panels” to decide whether to euthanize the elderly and handicapped. And the Obama protesters are too busy denouncing non-existent tax increases to be persuaded that Obama signed the largest two-year tax cut in U.S. history; it was included in the stimulus bill. They wouldn’t believe that if Limbaugh himself told them. (Don’t worry. He won’t.)
So far, the antics at rallies and town hall meetings have merely produced a little ugliness, like the swastika painted on a sign outside the office of U.S. Rep. David Scott (D-Ga.) But it wouldn’t take much for one of these angry gunslingers to do some real damage at a public gathering.
Will the vast rightwing conspiracy own up to its handiwork then?