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Tea party revolts -- grass-roots opposition to healthcare, or AstroTurf?

August 6, 2009 |  7:46 am

It's getting rough out there for Democrats backing President Obama's healthcare reform.

In Philadelphia, new Democrat Arlen Specter brought Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to a town hall meeting to help sell the plan. They were booed and jeered.

In Raleigh, North Carolina Rep. Brad Miller said he would not be hosting any healthcare town hall meetings because of a phoned death threat. The congressman's communications director, LuAnn Canipe, reported the caller said, "Miller could lose his life over this."

In New York, Rep. Tim Bishop had to be escorted to his car by police after protesters cornered him. And in Maryland, protesters hung Rep. Frank Kratovil in effigy outside his office.

Democrats charge that these are no "Tea Party" revolts like those waged against British rule by colonialists dumping tea in the Boston Harbor. Instead, says White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, these are organized protests by groups like Conservatives for Patients' Rights, which are drilling their supporters on how to disrupt congressional meetings. "I hope people will take a jaundiced eye to what is clearly the AstroTurf nature of so-called grass-roots lobbying."

Yesterday, the Democratic National Committee put out an ad accusing "the right-wing extremist Republican base" of organizing mobs to destroy Obama.

Now, Michael Steele is denying that the Republican National Committee played any role in the protests. "We're not inciting anyone to go out and disrupt anything," he said.  "We're not organizing the town halls," he added. "There's no upside for the Republican Party" in the protests.

-- Johanna Neuman

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