The White House and allied Democrats are ramping up efforts to make belligerent anti-Obama town hall crowds -- and the media outlets that feed their resentment -- the face of opposition to the president's health care agenda, aides tell the Huffington Post.
On Tuesday morning, the White House's new media team released a 3-minute video hitting back at "falsehoods" and "misstatements" about the president's plans. Notably, the clip highlighted the popular conservative site, the Drudge Report, for posting an old and spliced video clip claiming that the president wanted to eliminate private insurance.
This wasn't the first time the Obama White House has used its own media outlets to whack its foes. But sources tell Huffington Post that Tuesday's video is the harbinger of a much larger effort to change the tide on health care reform.
As detailed by White House officials and aides at allied groups, the goal going into the August recess is not to be intimidated by the angry protesters laying siege to town hall meetings or the information pushed by unfriendly websites, but rather to turn that anger and material into a rallying point for proponents of reform.
"Health insurance reform is an issue that lends itself to fear-mongering and distortion, so when we see those tactics, we are going to respond to them," Obama's chief strategist, David Axelrod, explained via email to the Huffington Post. "The President has been very clear that he wants to build on and strengthen the health care system we have, bring security and stability to people who have insurance today and access to quality affordable care to those who don't. Those who resist reform are standing up for a status quo that works great for the insurance industry, but not so well for the American people."
Another Democratic operative who is helping to spearhead the push was more succinct: "They [the anti-Obama crowds] don't care about health care. They care about destroying the president."
The obvious comparison -- one DNC aides are actively pushing -- is to the crowds that came to define rallies for Sen. John McCain, (R-Arizona) and Sarah Palin during the late stages of the 2008 presidential campaign. Those audiences, which openly questioned Obama's patriotism and citizenship, may have riled up the conservative base. But they also turned off moderate voters.
Already, a White House official says that the administration is readying more new-media pushback against the disinformation it sees online. And when addressing reporters on Tuesday, press secretary Robert Gibbs described the angry crowds as an extension of the "Brooks Brothers Brigade" that infamously disrupted the Florida recount in 2000.
The Democratic National Committee, meanwhile, has plans of its own, focusing its efforts on the town hall meetings that have been overrun by boisterous conservative opponents to the president.
At roughly the same time the administration's new media department was alerting reporters to the new video, officials at the DNC were sending around an article titled "The danger in the right's anger." The piece pointed to angry town hall crowd that had protested Rep. Lloyd Doggett, (D-Texas) over the weekend and, particularly a man hoisting a sign with Nazi SS lettering.
Pushing for health care policy is fundamentally different and challenging than rallying voters to the polls. But those who have experience with the process say that the president is in a unique and powerful position to take on his critics -- including the Drudge Report, which proved to be such a huge foil and hindrance the last time a Democrat was in the White House.
"I think even five years ago, picking a fight with Drudge would be tantamount to playing with fire," said Phil Singer, who worked on rapid response for Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign and dealt frequently with the largely unfavorable conservative site. "But the new media environment in which we are playing now, the old rules don't apply anymore. To be sure, Drudge asserts a certain level of influence. But I think it is fair to say Obama exerts a little bit more. And one of the things that has been interesting to watch has been the way that the White House and before that the Obama campaign was able to turn some of the old media rules on their head and create a new media dynamic."