The right turns to an old leftist tactic

One of the more obnoxious tactics of the left, especially the student left, during the 1960s and ’70s was to disrupt the meetings of those with whom they disagreed — on the war, race, feminism, whatever — until finally the targeted speaker gave up and left.

You would have hoped we had learned our lesson, but apparently not.

With funding and staff support from advocacy groups opposed to health-care reform in particular and the Obama administration in particular, organized groups have been showing up at congressional town-hall meetings held mostly by Democrats in favor of health-care reform.

The protesters jeer, heckle, wave placards, shout over the speaker and carry on much like the student radicals of yore. Memos that have cropped up on the Web show that these protests are not intended to be any kind of dialogue but purely disruptive, preferably ending with the member of Congress forced to retreat. Videos of the demonstrations almost immediately appear on the Internet. The idea is to make opposition to health-care reform seem more widespread than it really is.

Indeed, the National Republican Congressional Campaign Committee plans to publicize the disruptions under the title "Recess Roastings — Washington Democrats Feel the Heat at Home."

It has happened to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Sen. Arlen Specter and Rep. Patrick Murphy in Pennsylvania; and Rep. Lloyd Doggett in Texas. Rep. Frank Kratovil was hung in effigy outside his office, perhaps not coincidentally while an advocacy group opposed to health-care reform was meeting in his Maryland district.

The Democrats dismiss the demonstrators as the Republican fringe, birthers, tea baggers and assorted wing nuts. However, surely many of those who show up for these outbursts are sincerely motivated in their fear of health-care reform. And, the fact is, what happens while the lawmakers are back in their districts for the August recess is critical to what happens this fall.

However, it is impossible to dismiss the large quotient of manufactured outrage in these disruptions. The campaign smacks of what political operatives call "Astroturf" — fake grass roots.