What was true in 2009 is true today: In the normal course of things, it’s not easy even for a well-funded and -organized group to get people to spend an evening at a school auditorium hooting at their congressman. If these demonstrations are happening in districts around the country, attention must be paid.
It’s not often that White House press secretary #Sean Spicer sounds like his Obama predecessor Robert Gibbs, but on this, he might as well be reading leftover talking points. Gibbs dismissed the Tea Party’s town-hall agitation eight years ago as “manufactured anger” reflecting “the Astro-turf nature of grassroots lobbying.” Spicer says of the town-hall protests, “It’s not these organic uprisings that we’ve seen through the last several decades — the Tea Party was a very organic movement — this has become a very paid, Astro-turf-type movement.”
The partisan temptation in this circumstance is always to dismiss the passion of the other side, which is what Democrats did to their detriment in 2009 and Republicans are doing now.
Now, progressive activists are tearing a page from that playbook. The scenes are highly reminiscent of 2009, with Republican officeholders struggling to control unruly forums and leaving their town-hall meetings early or not holding them in the first place.
In that summer of the Tea Party, conservative activists packed the town-hall meetings of Democratic congressmen and peppered them with hostile questions. It was an early sign of the abiding opposition that Obamacare would encounter, and the prelude to Democratic defeats in 2010, 2014, and 2016.