Grassroots conservatives warn that President Obama's town hall meeting on healthcare Tuesday will be a "glorified infomercial," carefully orchestrated to manipulate public opinion and present the president as the voice of moderation.
"They're very smart in picking their battles," Everett Wilkinson, a leader of the national Tea Party Patriots organization, tells Newsmax. "It does look like they're bringing in some serious union people, busing them in, so it's going to be a controlled environment, like the ones they did in Tampa and St. Louis."
Wilkinson says a combination of union members, Secret Service agents, and left-wing operatives will all be employed by the administration in an effort to manage every aspect of the meeting.
Indications are emerging that the proceedings at Portsmouth High School are being carefully – if not tightly, controlled: A White House spokesman says tickets were distributed via a public Web site enrollment process. However, the White House also concedes that members of Congress handed out many of the tickets. It is unknown if any of the tickets were distributed by GOP congressmen. The White House also said "other" groups distributed tickets, but did not identify those organizations.Politico.com reports that the choice of New Hampshire was strategic. "New Hampshire is a place where people are really feeling the pinch of healthcare reform," said White House Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton. Wilkinson says that when citizens arrive, they will notice that most of the seats up front are already taken. "They will have people come in and be seating prior, so the front rows are full. There will be spots where people can sit down, a few seats here and a few seats there, so the major seating areas will all be full already," he says.The most visible seating areas will be occupied by supporters of healthcare reform, he states, adding those attendees will have preprinted signs under their seats to pull out and wave when the cameras aim in their direction. Those not known to be Obama supporters will be seated further away from the dais, he says. "If you noticed in past town halls, anyone asking a real question or opposing it is always in the middle or back rows, and that's very strategic on their part. They don't want any true discussion," he says. "They'll probably limit the use of video cameras for security reasons," Wilkinson adds. "The idea will be to control the environment."
About 1,800 persons will be permitted inside the high school, while large crowds of activists on both sides of the issue will rally outside.
Union members, Planned Parenthood, and other organizations will hold a rally to counteract the one organized by the Tea Party Patriots and other groups opposed to public-option healthcare. Although several recent polls indicate the president's healthcare proposals are increasingly unpopular, viewers are likely to be left with the perception that the pro-reform and anti-reform groups are roughly equal in size and strength.
"It will be a cartoon, a glorified infomercial," Wilkinson warns. "Basically Obama is trying to jump on board with the grassroots movement and try to take over our message and the branding of the American people, which is that [the administration] is trying to take over healthcare in America."
The president is expected to field at least some tough questions on healthcare reform. NBC's Chuck Todd commented Tuesday that, "If anything, I'd bet some inside the White House are hoping for a confrontation since they believe the president's demeanor alone will politically play well with the folks the White House cares most about right now, actual independents."
Wilkinson says the Tea Party Patriots are not opposed to healthcare reform per se.
"We're trying to create discussion on healthcare reform," he says. "We're not against healthcare reform. We're against a healthcare takeover by the American government. We want real questions and real answers – not staged infomercials," he says.
He adds that the White House shoulders partial responsibility for inciting the violence that left one healthcare reform opponent hospitalized last week, after being attacked at a town hall meeting in Missouri last week.
"I'm implying directly that the Obama administration, the DNC, MoveOn.org, and the SEIU [Service Employees International Union] have a history, and use that as a tactic of inciting violence, and have a mob mentality," he tells Newsmax.
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