Is the Astroturf always greener on the other side?
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has characterized outspoken protests at town hall meetings on health care as "astroturf" — or disingenuous grassroots organization by conservative opponents of the legislation.
But President Obama is now calling on his online network of supporters, Organizing for America (OFA), to get involved in the debate.
"There are those who profit from the status quo or see this debate as a political game, and they will stop at nothing to block reform," the president wrote in an e-mail to OFA members. "They are filling the airwaves and the Internet with outrageous falsehoods to scare people into opposing change."
The e-mail, sent by OFA Director Mitch Stewart, said insurance companies, special interest groups and partisan attack organizations are "spreading smears" and using "scare tactics" about Obama's plan for health care reform by inciting constituents to disrupt town hall meetings across the country.
"The goal of these disruptions is for a few people to get a lot of media attention and hijack the entire public discourse," Stewart's e-mail read. "If they succeed, all Americans — Democrats, Republicans, and Independents — will continue to struggle under the broken status quo."
Organizing for America, which boasts up to 13 million supporters, is the successor organization to Obama for America. Created in January, the group works within the Democratic National Committee and seeks to continue the "true work of citizenship" by utilizing grassroots campaigns to support the president's agenda via the Internet, phone or in town hall meetings nationwide, according to its Web site.
"As President, I will need the help of all Americans to meet the challenges that lie ahead," Obama said in a video message that introduced the group. "That's why I'm asking people like you who fought for change during the campaign to continue fighting for change in your communities."
The OFA e-mail described opponents of health care reform as a "tiny minority being stirred up by special interests" and urged citizens to call their local representatives.
"Calling should only take a few minutes, but it's a huge help," the e-mail continued. "These local offices serve as the main connection between a member of Congress and voters in the district."
Calls to OFA seeking comment were not immediately returned.
"We are not inciting anyone to go out and destruct anything," Steele told reporters on a conference call. "We're encouraging people to go and visit their congressman or their senator.
"To sit back and say that this is some Republican cabal is a bunch of baloney," Steele said.
Some activists who have shown up at town hall meetings are affiliated with loosely connected right-leaning groups, including Conservatives for Patients' Rights and Americans for Prosperity, according to officials with those groups.
Some say they came together during the "tea party" protests earlier this year in opposition to government spending. They say they've formed small groups and stayed in touch over e-mail, Facebook and in other ways.
But they insist they're part of a ground-level movement that represents real frustration with government spending and growth.
Adding to the OFA behemoth could be citizen activists who've been invited by the White House to report "fishy" information they come across regarding the health care debate.
"There is a lot of information about health insurance reform out there," the blog read. "Since we can't keep track of all of them here at the White House, we're asking for your help. If you get an email or see something on the web about health insurance reform that seems fishy, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org."
Critics say that action is not only illegal, it's downright Orwellian.