News & Politics  
comments_image Comments

Thousands of Right-Wingers Rally at Capitol to Hear Lies About Health Care Reform, Courtesy of Bachmann and GOP Leaders

Days before a health bill is expected to pass the House, Republicans rallied their flock with the help of Fox News, Michele Bachmann and leading conservative groups.
 
 
Share
 
 
 
 

Thousands of right-wingers rallied yesterday on the lawn on the U.S. Capitol building to hear a parade of Republican lawmakers warn them of an alleged threat to their freedom embedded in the secret channels of the health care reform bill unveiled last week by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. Lawmakers expect to vote on the bill Saturday.

Congressional star power was provided on the podium by the likes of Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., who called for the rally from the hallowed platform of Sean Hannity's Fox News program.

Other big names on the Capitol podium included House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio; Rep. Joe "You Lie" Wilson, R-S.C. (who got a huge ovation from the crowd), and House Whip Eric Cantor, R-Va., who promised that he was doing all he could to ensure that "not one Republican" votes for the health care reform bill.

Actors Jon Voight and John Deszo Ratzenberger (the guy who played Cliff on Cheers) provided the glamour quotient.

Had you witnessed the 9-12/Tea Party march on Washington in September, you would be forgiven for thinking of today's rally as same stuff, different day. Except it wasn't quite.


Sure, the yellow Gasdsen flags -- the standards bearing the image of a coiled snake and the words "Don't Tread on Me" -- were everywhere, as were the crazy conspiracy-theory signs.

Just like the 9-12 march, this was a white people's rally, most of them appearing to be over the age of 40. And the same triumverate of forces -- Fox News, with the astroturfing groups Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks -- were involved with the rally, which was promoted heavily by Fox News personalities and the Web site of Americans for Prosperity, as well as via the AFP e-mail network.

FreedomWorks President and CEO Matt Kibbe addressed today's crowd, just as he did at the 9-12 march, which FreedomWorks organized.

And while yesterday's crowd was far smaller than that of the 9-12 march, it was impressive in size for a weekday. People did indeed come from all over the country -- many on American for Prosperity buses, but many on their own.

By my guesstimate, organizers drew 5,000 enthusiastic Tea Partiers -- not bad for a Thursday afternoon.

A seemingly endless parade of speakers seemed to encompass virtually the whole of the House GOP caucus.

What really set this event apart from all others is that the long list of Republican lawmakers assembled before the crowd did so as part of a day's work in Congress on the steps of U.S. Capitol, cheerfully facing a barrage of signs that decried Pelosi and President Barack Obama as socialists, and the president as a usurper and transgressor of the Constitution.

Sure, you've heard that that story before, even bits and pieces of it out of the mouths of individual members of Congress. And, yes, U.S. senators and representatives have been present before on podiums where the Obama-as-fascist-socialist-Marxist-Muslim-foreigner story revealed itself in the chants and signage of protesters. But here was the leader of the House Republicans, addressing just such a crowd as part of his day job, leading perhaps 20 members of Congress to join that fray.

Boehner Looks On

Minority Leader Boehner's remarks were unremarkable but for the fact that, holding up a copy of the U.S. Constitution, he purported to be quoting from its Preamble while actually reading the opening lines of the Declaration of Independence.

More notable is the fact Boehner's misstep followed a sneering speech by radio talk-show host Mark Levin (introduced as a "great one," by Bachmann), who has built a cottage industry of representing Obama as a dictator who has come to overturn the American Revolution.

Levin is also famously misogynist when it comes to liberal women, referring to the secretary of state as " her thighness", and making references to the body of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

Of the Democratic leadership, Levin said, "They don't believe in private-property rights; they're taking a wrecking ball to this magnificent society. ... They want to control you, your children, your parents, your doctor. ... They want to ration care; the bottom line is, they want to play God and decide who lives and who dies."

Perhaps chastened by his recent run-in with FreedomWorks Chairman Dick Armey in the 23rd congressional district in New York, where Boehner backed the wrong candidate, the minority leader simply watched as Levin delivered his rant, and he made no reference to Levin's remarks in his own.

He was apparently unfazed, as well, by the rhetoric of those he leads and the signs carried by protesters who echoed the message that the president, and by extension, the speaker, somehow attained their positions illegitimately.

"This is your house," said Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, of the U.S. Capitol, "but there's people there who don't belong there."

One protester, close to the front of the stage, held a sign that bore this message on a yellow background in stenciled black letters: "KEN-YA TRUST OBAMA?"

Another held a placard that read, "IF OBAMA'S BIRTH CERTIFICATE IS LEGAL, WHY IS HE SPENDING $1,000,000+ TO CONCEAL IT?"

And the leader of the House Republicans looked on.


Ratzenberger, the Cheers actor (who also voiced a toy pig in the film, Toy Story), said of the philosophies of Pelosi and Obama, "It doesn't come from America; it comes from overseas. It comes from socialism."

He claimed that Pelosi and today's Democrats were not philosophical descendants of John F. Kennedy, even though the health care reform legislation currently making its way through Congress was a lifelong dream of JFK's brother, the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass.

"They're the philosophical descendants of Abby Hoffman, Saul Alinsky and Wavy Gravy," he said. "These are Woodstock Democrats."

And the leader of the House Republicans looked on.

Arizona's John Shaddegg stoked up the red-baiters. "You and I have been handed the torch of freedom," he said, "to fight against the socialism that is in this heath care bill."

And the leader of the House Republicans looked on.

Rep. Paul Broun of Georgia gave the rallygoers this instruction: "Tell your congressman that you're not going to eat this rotten, stinking fish that is Pelosi health care. We're going to put a stop sign in front of the steamroller of socialism."

That all seemed to go with the sign that read, "MARXISM = CHANGE; WE DON'T NEED THEM."

And the leader of the House Republicans looked on.

Actor Jon Voight took up the Obama as red theme, as well, claiming that the president aimed to create "a socialist America" through the use of "radical Chicago tactics." Obama wanted to pass health care "not for the poor," he said, "but for his own political gain."

And the leader of the House Republicans looked on.

Religious Right Lifts Its Pinkie; Tea Party Claims GOP Victories

Later in the program, Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, took the stage, marking the unofficial merger of the religious right and the Tea Party movement. Calling the health care bill "a bailout for the abortion industry," Perkins signaled the final front in the health care battle -- whether private plans that currently cover certain therapeutic abortions will be permitted to do so under the new scheme.

An abortion theme emerged in the remarks of Congress members who followed him to the podium, including Joe Pitts, a member of the Capitol Hill religious cult known as The Family who has teamed with Democrat Bart Stupak, another Family member to try to stall health care reform by using abortion as a wedge issue.


The speeches were also peppered with references to this week's Republican gubernatorial wins in Virginia and New Jersey.

Indeed, Virginia victor Bob McDonnell has strong ties to Americans for Prosperity, having borrowed AFP consultant Phil Cox as his campaign manager and having done legal work for the group himself.

Speaking of the Garden State, where the Tea Party movement threw in with Republican Chris Christie, Rep. Joe Wilson -- the South Carolina Republican who interrupted Obama's televised health care speech to a joint session of Congress -- was quick to take a bit of credit, citing his own appearance at a New Jersey Tea Party event on the eve of the election -- an event of which the candidate steered clear.

Fox News Sent Us

As the rally wound down and people began to filter out, I got to talk to some of those who had gathered on the Capitol lawn. Of the five I spoke to, all but one cited a Fox News personality as the source for their information about the rally.

Peggy Dau came in from Oklahoma with two friends. "Drove all night," she said. She was motivated by her work with the oppressed peoples of Laos, she said, where Christians are persecuted. That's what she sees coming down the pike for us, she said, if we don't stop these attempts to curtail our freedoms.

She gave me a copy of a magazine called Voices of the Martyrs, named for the ministry for which she works. When I asked how she learned about the rally, she said, "From Michele" -- meaning the Minnesota congresswoman. "I saw her on Fox -- I think it was Sean Hannity's show," she said.


Ed Michalski drove in from Lancaster, Pa., by himself. He got word of the rally from talk radio, he said, "Glenn Beck's show."
A couple from Ocean City, N.J., drove down after hearing the rally promoted on talk radio. They couldn't remember whether it was from William Bennett's show (Bennett is also a Fox News personality) or Beck. Or maybe it was Rush. (Limbaugh is not a Fox News personality.)

A father and son, who declined to give their names, drove in from Tennessee. Beck's megaphone was the one that reached their ears, spurring them to hit the road.

A woman from Michigan drove with four friends, after seeing Bachmann on Hannity. She, too, preferred to remain anonymous.

At last, I found someone who had not learned of the rally from a Fox personality. He was a lone man from Louisville, Ky. He came on a bus with about 50 people, he said, courtesy of Americans for Prosperity, who had kindly sent him an e-mail inviting him to this historic event.

Adele M. Stan is AlterNet's Washington bureau chief.