Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Mixed Messages at Local Tea-Party Meeting with Phil Heimlich as Guest Speaker

On Tuesday evening, the Eastern Hills Tea Party gathered at the Madeira City Hall to hold one of their periodic meetings and to discuss the national debt. Just prior to 7pm, between thirty and forty people gathered outside the main meeting room looking through tea-party literature and eating some cake to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the founding of the Cincinnati Tea Party. As seven-o-clock came around, citizens were ushered into the main chamber in order to hear from the night's featured speaker, former Republican member of Cincinnati City Council and former Hamilton County Commissioner, Phil Heimlich.

Heimlich is the son on the famed Dr. Henry Heimlich (who is credited with inventing the "maneuver" which bears his name), sat on Cincinnati City Council, and was a Hamilton County Commissioner. Heimlich was also a candidate for the 2nd Congressional District of Ohio, but lost his bid in the 2008 primary to current Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-OH). Currently Heimlich runs one-minute television segments on WXIX-TV which he calls "The Hard Truths with Phil Heimlich".

The former Council member was slated to speak at this tea-party event on the issue of national debt, but Heimlich's presence at a tea-party gathering was puzzling given his stance on health care reform. Take this recent blog entry where he discussed how it is moral and Biblical for the government to provide health care for its citizens (emphasis mine):

I’ve heard many “believers” say it’s the job of the church, not the government, to take care of the sick. But Proverbs 29:14 says, “If a king judges poor people fairly, his government will continue forever.”

These and other scriptures command those in power to help the less fortunate.

Forty-six million Americans are without health insurance. Millions more have coverage that is wholly inadequate — so inadequate that over 60 percent of bankruptcies are due to medical bills. This need is unlikely to be met by the church or individual donors.

The Bible directs our leaders to meet this need — and do it efficiently — so as not to violate the Biblical principle of stewardship. But to do nothing is like the servant who, when given money to invest, buried it in the ground. Jesus said, “Throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 25:30)

Heimlich is saying that the Bible tells government leaders to meet the needs of those who do not have health care. In other words, the government should provide its citizens with health care. This is quite a different narrative than has been heard since the summer months when tea-party activists shouted down Congressmen and held rallys denouncing a "government takeover" of health care.

What is more, Heimlich's wife Rebecca is the Ohio State Director of Americans for Prosperity, an organization that has been very involved in organizing opposition to the health care reform legislation that is being circulated in Washington. A few months ago, Rachel Maddow discussed how this organization is corporately funded and how it has disseminated falsehoods in their fight to energize tea-party movements and defeat the health care legislation:

This is what these groups do. They're experts at fake grass roots campaigns that promote corporate interests. Americans for Prosperity is the group that ginned up anti-stimulus rallies earlier this year. They also organized what they called the "Hot Air Tour" to campaign against the whole idea of global warming. They were the ones who sent Joe the Plumber around the country to rail against the Employee Free Choice Act, which is pro-labor legislation.

This oil industry and Republican operative billionaires club is according to the Republican party spokesman today, just average middle class Americans. Just regular American folks sitting around the kitchen table thinking about whether they can get away with saying that the government, continuing its long standing policy of encouraging living wills, is really a secret plot to kill old people.

One other thing about Americans for Prosperity, their most visible spokesman, is a man named Tim Phillips. He is the President of the organization and we've asked him to come on the show to talk with us about the group. Tim Phillips got his start in fake grass roots with a firm called Century Strategies, run by Ralph Reed. Century Strategies is famous for having duped Christian groups into lobbying for energy deregulation. You know, like the Bible said.


These guys are the pros. This is an industry. Americans are showing up at these events to shout down the discussion, to chase their Congressmen, and they are enraged. And they're enraged at least in part because they're being riled up by over the top, fabricated conspiracy theories about health care. And they're being directed and orchestrated by the corporate interests that do this for a living and do it very well.


To talk about these town hall events as some organic outpouring of average American folks who have concerns about health care is to be willfully blind to what is really going on, which is professional P.R. operatives generating exploitative, manufactured, strategically deployed outrage in order to line their own pocket.

These P.R. spin misters get paid a lot of money for doing it. The corporations they work for get to kill legislation that would hurt their profits. And the real people who they launch into these town hall settings after they're told that health care reform is a secret commie plot to kill old people and to mandate sex changes, those real people get more, and more, and more and more angry, and more, and more, and more alienated, and ultimately they get left, like the rest of us, with a health care system that is broken and doesn't work in the interest of the American people, but does work in the interest of the corporations that profit from the way the system is now.

This is professional, corporate funded Republican staffed P.R., and it should be reported as such.

This is the context in which Phil Heimlich was to give his remarks at the Eastern Hills Party meeting on Tuesday night. It seemed as if schizophrenic conservatism had hit overdrive: Heimlich posts a blog entry advocating government-provided insurance but has long been a staunch Republican whose wife now is a State Director of an Organization that has been instrumental in drumming up the anger of citizens to oppose health care reforms. I attended this tea-party meeting to see if I couldn't figure out what was going on here.

Heimlich was introduced by the facilitator of the meeting and took the stage making a joke about his wife. "I had to rush my, you know my wife is very demanding," Heimlich started, "She made me take her to the hospital Saturday morning just because she had appendicitis."

He went on to discuss how his wife recovered enough to have him drive her to Columbus on Monday so that she could participate in a huge health care protest that was organized by Americans for Prosperity. He also mentioned that she was also involved in organizing the "Hands off our Health Care Rally" that was held on the other side of Cincinnati that same evening. "She's really doing some exciting stuff," Heimlich said of his wife's organizing efforts.

After praising his wife's courage and "exciting" efforts in organizing citizens against health care reform, Heimlich apologized for not wearing a tie to this event and said his tie-less appearance reminded him of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. "I don't mind that the guy brutalizes his own people, rigged the election and the guy denies the Holocaust, but the guy is such a shabby dresser," joked Heimlich, "He outta stop by Brooks Brothers or something and get a pair of pants before he goes to the UN or something like that."

Heimlich then began his talk on the financial troubles that face the United States with why the tea-party crowd should listen to him on this issue. He admitted that the only economics course he took was Economics 101 during his time at Stanford, but said that he finds it interesting that the economists who are viewed as experts on the issue are all getting it wrong. Heimlich especially went after Nobel Prize recipient and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman:

"Here is a guy who won the Nobel Prize for Economics, he's Professor of Economics at Princeton, a columist for the New York Times; his solution to the economic problems facing our country, do you know what it is? Bigger stimulus. He thinks the problem is that we are not spending enough. That's his solution."


"So my point is just that, I don't know if having a big economics degree necessarily qualifies you to speak about some of the crisis, the financial crisis that our country is facing."

So the first reason that the tea-party members should trust Heimlich's views on economics are because even though he has only taken one economics class, he doesn't think that a Nobel Prize winning Professor of Economics like Paul Krugman, is qualified to speak about the economic crisis? An interesting (and somewhat confusing) stance.

After appealing to the crowd that he is just a normal guy who "has something to say" like "you might have something to say", Heimlich launched into his views on the national debt. He told the crowd that if they take away anything from his talk, they should understand that "The United States is broke". He slammed the United States government for out of control spending that has led to a "$14.5 trillion dollar debt" that is complicated by billions in borrowed interest.

Sounding at times like an apprentice of Ron Paul, Heimlich told the crowd that while they are concerned with cutting spending on social programs, the problem also lies in spending on wars and the military. He criticized Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-OH) and Rep. Steve Driehaus (D-OH) for taking funds so that GE could produce a "duplicate engine" to the F-35 aircraft; a project that Heimlich views as "wasteful spending". Heimlich also outlined the how the spending on the Iraq War is out of control:

"Most of us on our side, we thought that was the greatest thing in the world. Maybe it will turn out that way, but you know, what I don't get about that is that there used to be a situation in that region where you had...two countries that basically hated each other. You had Iran and Iraq and you know what they did? They went around killing each other. They fought a war for eight years and even though it was pretty terrible for their people, for our national security that was a pretty good deal."


"Now why the heck we spent, what will be, $1 trillion dollars, 4,000 lives, 100,000 lives of Iraqi civilians, why we did that to get rid of one of the bullies so that now the other bully is dominating the region, I don't know. But it seems to me that if we are going to be truly fiscally responsible, if that's really what we are after, then we have to be fiscally responsible across the board."

Heimlich made the case that since the U.S. is mounting a debt that will never be repaid, it will affect everyone's personal finances. He claims that this calls for radical action (emphasis mine on a point I will come back to):

"I think we all ought to start thinking about being a little less patriotic. I'm all for electing the right people...I'm all for everything that you guys are doing, I think this is an incredible, incredible turnout you have here, my wife works with tea-parties all over Ohio and I think it's great, but I gotta tell you something. I think it's time to start thinking about protecting ourselves. I do. Protecting our families."


"I think the bottom line is, let's not run our lives like the government runs theirs. That make sense?"

As Heimlich concluded he chose to take a few questions. As I sat through his presentation, I couldn't help but continue to think about the apparent contradiction that his presence at a tea-party meeting posed. After all, in that last quote, Heimlich stated that he was "all for everything that you guys are doing" and that his wife's work with other Ohio tea-parties was "great"; yet his own blog post where he advocated for government-run health care seemed to contradict his support for the tea-parties and the work that his wife was doing.

As the Q&A continued, I asked about this contradiction. Below is the video of my question, Heimlich's response and the aftermath:

Clearly, Heimlich was only interested in, as he stated, criticizing Republican hypocrisy on this issue instead of taking a firm stand either single-payer or the public option, like he hinted at in his blog post. You could see that members of the tea-party were not pleased to hear his stance on health care reform and even gave some pushback.

After this segment, Heimlich exited the main chamber to allow the tea-party meeting to continue. I followed Heimlich into the lobby with my digital audio recorder in hand and asked him what health care reforms he would like to see implemented. (Note, another man who had attended the meeting was standing with us and he is the third voice you hear in the audio)

It is interesting that Heimlich has such strong criticisms for members of his own party, even calling them out on their inaction during the years of President Bush. What is also interesting is Heimlich's condemnation of the partisanship that surrounds the health care debate when he openly says that he is "all for" what the tea-parties are doing and that his wife's efforts with the tea-parties are "great" and "exciting". The level of partisanship has been been well-documented at these tea-party rallies and for Heimlich to suggest that he supports the efforts, but is outraged by the partisanship in the debate, is disingenuous.

Heimlich also states that he is "not necessarily a member of the tea-party" when I asked him if he is worried about Republican influence, but his presence at these events and in telling members that he is "all for" what they are doing sends mixed messages at best and makes his self-described hate of hypocrisy ironic at worst.

This piece is cross posted here.

1 comment:

New moon said...

Its really very good video. thanks for sharing it...

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