Right now the United States Congress is on recess. Democratic Congressmen and Senators are holding Town Halls across the US to debate/discuss Heath Care reform with their constituents. Unfortunately, these Town Halls are being interrupted by people shouting anti-Obama/anti-Health Reform slogans. These Town Halls should give all sides of the debate a chance to earnestly put forward their arguments but the politicians running them are repeatedly being denied the ability to talk and many of these forums are being shut down. The people at these Town Halls have not only been shouting, some of them have signs calling President Obama a Nazi and spread lies (like that the President’s plan will kill old people.) If you watch “Fox News” exclusively you would believe that they people disrupting these Town Halls are just regular Americans expressing their opinion. Unfortunately that is a filthy lie. The people attending these meetings are not doing so sporadically and what they are saying is in no way spontaneous. These “Health Care Mobs“are being bused in and told what to say by Republicans and their allies. America desperately needs an intelligent debate on Health Care Reform. The Republican Party is not only lowering the debate by encouraging/arranging these screaming matches, they are scrapping debate entirely. This has been dubbed “Astroturfing” by those who have exposed what is going on (as Republicans are faking a “grass roots” movement.) Astroturfing may provide the facade of support but it contributes nothing to the debate or democratic process. Potemkin* protests like these are dishonest, they are an abuse of the democratic process, and at there worst they can mislead/misinform those who are honestly interested/undecided about the issues.
Potempkinism is in no way exclusive to the United States. Republicans controlled congress from the Clinton years to 2006 and the White House from 2000 to 2008. Prime Minister Harper and the Conservative Party of Canada have been using the same shame tactics as their American Brothers. Here are a few examples:
Prime Minister Harper’s Cheering Squad: In the Globe and Mail after the “Coalition Crisis” Rick Mercer reported: “During the past week, while the nation wondered if the government would fall, junior Conservative staffers were ordered to be outside 24 Sussex Dr. by 6:15 in the morning. Their job was to stand there in the dark with the temperature well below zero and wait for the PM to appear. Their instructions were to applaud, wave and sing O Canada loudly as the motorcade pulled out of the gates and drove Stephen Harper to work.” By organizing these potemkin crowds the Prime Minister was lying to the Canadian people. This was the perfect set-up for the speech he gave where he lied to Canadians and told them that they directly elect the Prime Minister and that the coalition was undemocratic. These simulated supporters remind me of Soviet parades that also had mandatory attendance.
Anti-Coalition Rallies: Republicans took a cue on their Health Care Mos from the Canadian Conservatives’ “Rally for Canada” or (as it will be referred to from now on “Anti-Coalition Rallies.”) Organized by the likes of Stephen Taylor, the Manning Centre, and The Canadian Taxpayers Federation the ‘rallies’ featured leaders who yelled faux-populist messages that were (like the Health Care Mob talking points) patently untrue. Like the Republican-run rallies, the Conservative-run anti-coalition rallies dressed up their lies in patriotism. They called the coalition “un-democratic”, “un-Canadian” and that it went against the “highest principle of Canadian democracy” (plenty of flags were present at these rallies.) Without blinking they ignored the fact that Opposition Leader Stephen Harper tried the same thing when Paul Martin was Prime Minister (well not the same, as he didn’t even have the decency to do it in public.) These rallies were assembled by and contained a minority of Canadians who wanted to spread misinformation and fear about what what was happening in a desperate bid for Conservatives to hold onto power.
The Mike Duffy Town Hall: More recently,in an effort to convince Canadians that his party wasn’t actually dragging its feet on the stimulus spending that the Liberal Party forced hem to put in the budget after they denied Canada was in a recession for week, the Prime Minister had a Town Hall of his own. Unlike the chaos of the Health Care Town Halls down South, this Town Hall was as choreographed as Bob Fosse’s 1972 production of “Pippin.” Questions were asked by Conservative Hack/Senator Mike Duffy. This theatre piece was not an actually Town Hall where issues are debated, it was pure Conservative Propaganda. Though Prime Minister Harper doesn’t believe in actual democratic debate he does know that Canadians like that sort of thing so he faked it the best that he could.
Three Pit-Bulls and the lowering of the level of discourse: Whenever the Hon. Jim Flaherty, John Baird and Jason Kenney are referenced they are referred to as “pit bulls” who “give great retorts during question period.” All three are loud, angry and are especially adept at obfuscating during QP. They do their job well, this is because their job is not to be a competent minister but is to shut down debate, like those yelling during Health Care Town Halls. When asked about the environment, nuclear power, or visas they simply say “you Liberals were bigger failures than us when you were in government” and all discussion stops.
Prime Minister Harper and the CPC got their environmental, economic, cultural/social, and foreign policies from the Republican Party so it is no surprise that they would get their misinformation strategy and campaign tactics from them too. The Prime Minister has no policies or ideas and has a terrible record in office so he has to assemble fake crowds, stifle debate, lie, and pretend. Liberals need to prepare for this kind of childish ignorance for the next election campaign and for when EI, foreign policy, economic policy or any other issue is debated. This means being very patient and carefully explaining our position but it also means being proactive to call out the Conservatives on their lies and prodding the media when they fail to do their job.