Protesters Disrupt Democrats' Best-Laid Plans For Health Reform 'Conversations'

Over the weekend, a series of protests at Democratic events meant to promote health reform "organized by loose-knit coalition of conservative voters and advocacy groups, were a raucous start to what is expected to be weeks of political and ideological clashes over the health care overhaul," the New York Times reports. "Republicans said that the protests were just the beginning of spontaneous opposition to the health care proposals and that they would only gain momentum as Americans learn more about the legislation." But Democrats said they were only an effort to block discourse, and were anything but a grass-roots campaign. "This is a very coordinated effort," said one Democratic Congressman who was confronted by protestors at a grocery store (Herszenhorn and Stolberg, 8/3).

CBS has video of the protests, which spanned the country (Andrews, 8/3).

Here's a tally of some recent events:

Philadelphia Daily News: "[I]t wasn't just another sporting event in Philadelphia," despite the loud insults and brusque behavior. Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., and Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius were heckled by opponents of health reform in an evenly divided crowd of about 400 during a town hall Sunday. At one point, Sebelius threatened to leave the stage if both foes and supporters didn't settle down (Farr, 8/3).

Austin American-Statesman: Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, left a small town hall meeting at an Austin grocery store Saturday when a group of protesters began chanting "Just say no," and "Don't vote for Doggett." Doggett called the protest "a desperation tactic," and added "that such a protest 'combined with all of the misinformation coming out on cable television and through a number of Web sites is an indication that (advocates of health care reform) have to do a more effective job of communicating'" (Selby, 8/4).

Greensboro (N.C.) News-Record: In North Carolina, protesters staged their own rally Monday in a Shoney's restaurant parking lot. A leader of the state chapter of Americans for Prosperity evoked the slow federal response to Hurricane Katrina, asking "a crowd of more than 100" protestors whether they wanted similar results in "our exam rooms" (Binker, 8/4).

WFRV (Wisconsin): Rep. Steve Kagen, D-Wis., encountered hundreds of protesters in at a library in Green Bay Monday. Chants opposing government-sponsored health insurance left the congressman with few opportunities to speak. Police eventually dispersed the gathering (8/03).

Bucks County (Pa.) Courier Times: Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Pa., planned to discuss health reform and other topics with constituents at a one-on-one "Congressman on Your Corner" session Saturday. But, instead he confronted an emotional crowd and at times asked "hecklers to be respectful" (Vineberg, 8/2).

Protests at their events are a problem for Democrats, who need to use the upcoming month to sell their plans to the public, Politico reports. "Their ability to make their case on health care at public events during the August recess is mostly in the hands of the people who turn out for the events. And if those people want to be disruptive — especially en masse — there’s not much the Democrats can do about it" (Isenstadt and Phillip, 8/4).

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