New, Old Tactics Used To Oppose White House

Opposition to President Obama and his plans for the economy, health care and energy is taking a variety of forms. Some are as new as Twitter, while others are as old as politics itself.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

NPR news analyst Juan Williams is in our studios. He's been listening with us to Andrea's report. Juan, good morning.

JUAN WILLIAMS: Good morning, Steve. Good morning, Linda.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

Good morning.

Juan, we just heard about what you might call a summer of discontent. Can members of Congress holding town meetings actually do anything about these protests? These are, after all, citizens. They're voters.

WILLIAMS: Well, the key here is to depict them less so as citizens and voters and more so as the organized mob, to suggest that this is not Mr. Smith comes to the town hall with heartfelt concerns, but really the result of an effort being launched by opponents of health care and opponents of president Obama to point out that in some cases, there are ties to lobbyists.

Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, said the other day this is a Brooks Brothers Brigade, suggesting again big money in Washington is trying to foment these town hall meeting disruptions, if you will, in some cases pointing out that there are memos that have been sent out by people who are opposed to the president's plans - in fact, citing Saul Alinsky, the leftist organizer, trying to suggest that they use - the people who want to disrupt these meetings - use some of his tactics, you know, personalize, polarize, disrupt. Get in the front row of the audience. Yell at the speaker early. Use statistics - all of these tactics. They want them out front so that people see the protests differently.

INSKEEP: Well, let's try to separate some of the fireworks from the substance here, if we can do that, Juan. Because whether or not these protests are organized - is there a real frustration that's out there?

WILLIAMS: Oh, absolutely, Steve. And the key here is if you look at the numbers, the poll numbers - and it's been consistent - the American people have genuine concern about the economy, and in specific, deficit spending. The idea is that the deficit, it continues to climb, and they're worried that this is going to possibly lead to tax increases. And that plays into the critic's hands that the president is nothing but - in cliche terms - a tax-and-spend liberal. And that's not only going to result in higher taxes, but result in the president breaking his pledge not to raise taxes on people who make less than $250,000 a year.

INSKEEP: You know, this is something that enrages Democrats, I think, because deficits went up dramatically under a Republican administration, too. But I suppose it's fair to point out that Americans were increasingly concerned about the deficits then, as well as now. Weren't they?

WILLIAMS: Correct. But, of course, we're in the midst of increasing spending on government programs, such as health care reform. Now it takes on a heightened point of concern in terms of the political views. And so what you have is Republicans exploiting it, even though if you look at the prescription drug benefit put in place under the Bush administration, the funding was not provided, and it drove up the deficit.

WERTHEIMER: Juan, back at the meetings, at some of them we've seen so-called Birthers, people who say that President Obama was not born in the United States. It's been refuted by everybody from his home state of Hawaii, including the Republican governor. What's going on with that?

WILLIAMS: You know, from 10,000 feet above the political fight, you have say this is a - looks like the Republican Party imploding, Linda. These are people who are like Confederates in the closet. They won't admit the war is over. They seem to be challenging President Obama's legitimacy. They don't want to accept that this man is president of the United States. Now, it's such a polarizing, difficult issue for the Republican Party because you have elements in the party, elected officials who say, well, this is an activist base, and they don't want to simply say they're nuts. There's a conspiracy-minded people who have no basis for their complaint. And so you have some elected officials who continue to defer to them.

INSKEEP: One other thing, Juan, because today, the U.S. Senate is supposed to vote on the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the United States Supreme Court. A few Republicans will vote for her, but not very many. What does that suggest about the state of play between the two parties?

WILLIAMS: Well, it suggests that the Republican Party is really having a difficult time with this issue, because here you have a - take, for example, Senator John McCain, a man whose state, Arizona, has a large percentage of Hispanics. He says he's going to vote against her - again, worried about the base, even at a time when that party needs to enlarge its base to reach beyond the kind of activist at the core of the Republican Party.

INSKEEP: Analysis this morning from NPR's Juan Williams. Juan, thanks very much.

WILLIAMS: You're welcome.

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