Where Are the Astroturf Activists Now?

Lee Habeeb

2/22/2011 12:01:00 AM - Lee Habeeb

In the summer of 2009, Americans by the hundreds of thousands poured into townhall meetings across America to ask their elected officials in Congress hard questions about ObamaCare. Those citizens were quickly dismissed by the media, academia and the Left as “Astroturf activists.” They were told they were fakes. Phonies. Or Fugazis, as my Italian friends in Jersey would say.

I know something about those Astroturf activists. At Salem Radio Newtork, which syndicates some of the biggest talk radio personalities in America (Bill Bennett, Hugh Hewitt, Mike Gallagher, Michael Medved and Dennis Prager), we call those Astroturf activists our audience.

In September of 2009, on that historic day when President Obama took his message on health care to a joint session of Congress, we delivered to Capitol Hill the largest public policy petition in American history. Along with our great partners at The National Center for Policy Analysis, we handed then House Minority Leader John Boehner over 1.3 million names in boxes that could have filled several FEMA trailers.

What we at Salem knew was a simple ontological fact: those “asrtoturf activists” were real. Very real. And what happened to those members of Congress who supported that bill, especially those moderate Blue Dog Democrats, was very real. Their jobs are very gone.

And so we now flash forward to Madison, Wisconsin, and the 40,000 protestors on those streets. Who are they and where did they come from? What interests do they represent, and why does the whole thing have the feel of a bad 1930s WPA play?

We know that many of those protestors are teachers, many of whom decided to take an early spring break – on the taxpayer’s dime - to protest the idea of having to contribute some more money to their pensions and health care rather than face severe layoffs.

We also know that Madison is a college town, and college kids never miss an opportunity to blow off some classes to support some worthy liberal cause. There are probably some professors there too, because they know that somewhere down the road, someone like Governor Walker might just start looking at their benefits, too. And union goodies like tenure.

And thanks to a Politico report, we now know that Organizing for America (O.F.A) and the Democrat Party have been hard at work supporting this protest. Ben Smith wrote this on February 17:

O.f.A Wisconsin's field efforts include filling buses and building turnout for the rallies this week in Madison, organizing 15 rapid response phone banks urging supporters to call their state legislators, and working on planning and producing rallies, a Democratic Party official in Washington said.

And so I ask, who are the “Astroturf activists” now? Those people on the streets are not there as citizens, but as members of a powerful interest group, gathered to petition government for special treatment, with the DNC and Organizing for America coordinating the events on the ground from their offices in Washington DC.

But the numbers don’t add up for these Astroturfers. Wisconsin’s education union has a mere 98,000 members. But Wisconsin has nearly 5.7 million citizens. Back in an earlier time, I would have given the political advantage to the unions, with their big political spending machine, and their ties to the liberal mainstream press.

But the good old days are over, as the union bosses are about to learn. The times have changed, and the mood of the public has changed. So too has the way in which the electorate gets its information. The old media gatekeepers have less influence than ever. As New Jersey Governor Chris Christie well knows, he can broadcast directly to the people of his state through his You Tube encounters. He knows Americans will see those videos on Fox News, and also on the Drudge Report, Hot Air and other internet sites.

And he knows we in talk radio will take those You Tube speeches and play them directly to tens of millions of listeners across the country.

The Astroturf activists on the streets of Madison may think they are helping their cause, but the American people are watching. And they are judging--judging them and those officials we elected to serve taxpayer rather than union interests.

America’s Organizer in Chief, President Obama, weighed in on the issue last week, calling Governor Walker’s actions an “assault on the unions.” You bet they are. And if the Democrats get this issue wrong like they got ObamaCare wrong, they’ll be hearing from the American people once again in 2012.

And this time, it just might cost them the U.S. Senate and the White House.