The Digital Battle Over Healthcare
Traditionally, August is supposed to be a little quieter in Washington, DC. Not so this summer with the current debates heating up over the future of the US economy, bailouts, healthcare reform and energy legislation.
The Internet is certainly playing a key role. In fact, YouTube may have officially reached its digital advocacy “tipping point” when a handful of videos were recently uploaded featuring flustered politicians struggling to answer tough healthcare questions during several Congressional town hall meetings.
Many Democrats in support of the bill have moved to characterize opponents as an organized, astroturfing, angry right wing mob. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) even went so far as to call the protests “un-American.” On the contrary, it was the SEIU who was caught on tape beating Kenneth Gladney, a black conservative activist who was on site selling “Don’t Tread on Me” buttons and flags at a Russ Carnahan rally in St. Louis, Missouri.
However, this wasn’t an organized gotcha campaign tactic like the infamous “Macaca” incident that many credit for the derailment of Sen. Allen’s re-election campaign in Virginia. Rather, these videos were shot, edited and posted by average, passionate American citizens who gathered to exercise their First Amendment right and voice their concern over President Obama’s proposed healthcare legislation.
As Congress heads into their summer recess, some Members may wish they were spending more time on the beach instead of answering questions from frustrated constituents about government-run universal healthcare. I say let them vacation. After all, it will give them time to actually read the 1,000 page bill, perfect for a little summer reading.
In the midst of all this debate, the Internet continues to ramp up full throttle on both sides of the issue.
The Obama White House is attempting to utilize the Web, just as they did so masterfully during the campaign, in an effort to push the legislation through. How? Well, for starters, Linda Douglass took on the Drudge Report and asks users to “snitch” on fellow citizens if they see “fishy” information online about the healthcare discussion. They even set up an email address (firstname.lastname@example.org) to ease the reporting process.
The primary issue I have with this approach is that the White House Website is taxpayer funded and shouldn’t be used as a tool to gather information about Americans for pure political gain. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) agrees and promptly sent a letter to the White House asking President Obama to bring the program to an end.
If the DNC or BarackObama.com/Organizing for America wants to do this (i.e. Tweet Your Senator = brilliant way to build buzz and your E-mail lists!), fine by me. However, WhiteHouse.gov should steer clear especially when the data collected is not subject to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and new questions are arising about federal government privacy policies.
Is there a double standard here? Former White House Press Secretary Dana Perino makes an excellent point in Politico’s Arena:
“What would have happened if President George W. Bush had asked Americans to forward to the White House emails they’d received that spread “disinformation” or seemed “fishy” regarding any topic, such as the war on terror, immigration reform, tax cuts? How soon would the New York Times have splashed it on the front page, that moveon.org would have flipped its lid, and the Congressional Democrats called for new legislation to strip the President of his wildly expanding powers?”
Just today, WhiteHouse.gov launched a new “Health Insurance Reform Reality Check” feature which offers “facts about the stability and security you get from health insurance reform.”
Those at the National ObamaCare Opt Out (NOOO!) Registry disagree and have launched a site designed to motivate opponents of the bill to join the fight against it by registering and tweeting out with the #optout hashtag on Twitter.
I was recently reminded of the Internet’s infancy about a month ago when Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) appeared on FOX News with Megyn Kelly to discuss H.R. 615. The resolution would require Members of Congress who vote for public option healthcare to give up their current federal employee healthcare plan (as currently written, those serving House and Senate are exempt for five years). While on the program, Rep. Fleming encouraged viewers to visit his Website fleming.house.gov to track the bill’s cosponsors – all Republicans at the time. Interest was so great that increased traffic crashed the server for almost 45 minutes resulting in a 403.9 Error: Too Much Democracy All At Once!
Instead of using some of the more traditional methods, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) chose to outline his thoughts regarding healthcare reform via a video he posted on Facebook. Of course, I learned about this during a talk radio interview with the congressman as I drove into work one morning last week. See, MSM isn’t dead!
As the showdown continues to heat up after the break, one thing is for sure: This is fight is real and the implications are huge. Since Inauguration, many have wondered if Obama would be able to leverage his online campaign supporters into governing once he transitioned to the Oval Office. I think we are about to find out.
Megyn Kelly discusses healthcare “flag” email lists and the Presidential Records Act with Deputy White House Press Secretary Bill Burton on FOX News. (Politico.com, 8/12/09)
At last Thursday’s (8/13/09) press briefing, Major Garrett of FOX News asked White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs about many who claim to have received unsolicited healthcare related emails from David Axelrod at the White House.
On Sunday, 8/15/09, Nick Shapiro, White House spokesman for New Media released the following statement, with a follow-up posted on the FOX News White House blog, Row 2, Seat 4:
The White House email list is made up of email addresses obtained solely through the White House website. The White House doesn’t purchase, upload or merge from any other list, again, all emails come from the White House website as we have no interest in emailing anyone who does not want to receive an email. If an individual received the email because someone else or a group signed them up or forwarded the email, we hope they were not too inconvenienced. Further, we suggest that they unsubscribe from the list by clicking the link at the bottom of the email or tell whomever forwarded it to them not to forward such information anymore. We are implementing measures to make subscribing to emails clearer, including preventing advocacy organizations from signing people up to our lists without their permission when they deliver petition signatures and other messages on individual’s behalf.”
White House will change e-mail rules (Politico, 8/16/09)
White House Passes Blame on Unsolicited Health Care E-Mails (FOXNews.com, 8/16/09) The White House suggests third-party groups are to blame for unsolicited health care e-mails.
ACLU – Apologists for Obama? (Scott Stanzel)
Remember when protest was patriotic? (Glenn Harlan Reynolds, Washington Examiner)
Obama’s Authoritarian Style (Wall Street Journal)
Cartoon: Get Out of the Way (John Trever, The Albuquerque Journal)