Tax Day was approaching and the righties were out to denigrate government workers and government spending. Sarah Palin, former Governor of Alaska who quit her job in 2009, headlined a rally in Madison, Wisconsin, bought and paid for by the front-group Americans for Prosperity (AFP), but billed as a "grassroots" Tea Party event.
The Koch-funded AFP set up the stage and programmed 13 buses into Madison, but only six were labeled "full" on their website on Saturday. AFP also likely paid the airfare and fees of the national speakers. Braving the sleet, snow and raucous counter-protesters, Palin earned her money.
The AFP stage was carefully designed so no one could stand behind Palin with embarrassing signs, which were prevalent. "Scott: Pull a Palin, Quit!", "Teach Walker How to Resign" and "Go Home and Take Walker with You" would have ruined the view. On both sides of the stage, and well into the crowd, there were 10 foot tarp "walls" so that the large crowd of anti-Walker protesters could not be seen by cameras.
Counter-protesters could not be seen, but they could be heard. Even with all the stage control, experienced Republican apparatchiks were rattled by the huge roar from the opposition which rang cow bells, blew Vuvulezas and endlessly chanted "Re-call Wal-ker," making it impossible to hear the speakers. Every video of the day is backed by a muffled roar.
Breitbart Screams "Go to Hell!"
Andrew Breitbart, the right wing blogger who is famous for smearing black USDA employee Shirley Sherrod as a racist, had the honor of introducing the former Governor of Alaska.
Breitbart yelled to be heard: "You know what you are hearing? You are hearing the death of community organizing!" Chutzpa from a man fronting an event for major corporate interests.
"Let's be honest about what happened here," said Breitbart, steamed. "Richard Trumka of the AFL-CIO, who has been to the White House about 1,000 times, has cynically tried to divide American people against each other. Has used Wisconsin to try to pit American against American, and the silent majority won."
With this spin, Breitbart blames Obama and the unions for the divisive fight over collective bargaining rights, while in fact it is Walker and the national GOP who have devised a brilliant straw man strategy to blame public workers -- and not Wall Street barons -- for the state of the economy. Walker has attempted to pit public workers against taxpayers, and even firefighters against teachers, by exempting fire and police from his bill. But people are not buying this bait-and-switch and overwhelmingly support workers' collective bargaining rights.
As the booing got louder, Breitbart lost it, screaming at protesters: "To be lectured by you in the periphery, you have lied by getting doctor' notes... you have no right to lecture us on civility. You have no right to lecture us on language with your Koch-suckers business. Go to hell! No seriously -- Go to hell! Go to hell! You have been so rude trying to divide us. Class warfare is not American! Class warfare is not American!"
The Madison rally was "Mama Grizzly's" first speech since her catastrophically self-serving "blood libel" video after the assassination attempt on Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Prior to the shooting, Giffords had gently chastised Palin for putting gunsights over Giffords' image on a website. Palin had nowhere to go but up, and she did.
Palin As Union Maid
Palin took a different approach. She wrapped herself in her union ties: "I am proud to stand with you in solidarity. As a former union member and as the wife of a union member, what I have to say today I say to our good patriotic brothers and sisters who are in unions ... a pension is a promise that must be kept. States must be solvent to keep their promises and that is what he is trying to do. He's not trying to hurt union members he's trying to save your jobs and your pensions. Some of your union bosses don't understand this, don't care when union workers are laid off ... But that is not real solidarity. Real solidarity is coming together for the common good. This Tea Party is real solidarity."
In this clever piece of spin, Palin picks up on Walker's "job-saving" theme. Walker threatened 1,500 layoffs in advance of the vote on the union busting bill, then stopped the pink slips from rolling the day after the bill passed. But the threats were all theater. Walker was recently forced to admit at a hearing in Congress that the union-busting provisions had no fiscal impact. "We are doing this to save jobs" is a great talking point until the bill is implemented along with $1.7 billion in budget cuts to schools and municipalities and thousands of teachers and municipal workers are given the ax.
"I am here today because this is where real courage and real integrity can be found. Courage is your governor and legislature standing strong in the face of death threats and thug tactics," Palin continued. "You saw these violent 'rent-a-mobs' trash your capitol and vandalize business, Madison you held your ground your governor did the right thing and you won."
Palin also apparently doesn't know that the death threats sent by a wingnut child care provider to Republican legislators were not discovered by news outlets using the open records law until after the bill was passed. They are similar to the death threats sent by other wingnuts to the Democratic senators. "Rent-a-mob" is rich for someone fronting for the Kochs. As for thug tactics and vandalized businesses, she must be watching too much FOX News. The 300,000 protestors who visited the Capitol over the last few months know that the takeover by University of Wisconsin students was orderly, clean and respectful. While some may consider regular marches of 150,000 "thug tactics," no businesses were vandalized and the months of protests were terrific for Madison's downtown restaurants, hotels and small businesses.
Palin got one thing right when she observed: "Madison, these are the front lines for the battle for the future of our country ... The 2012 election begins here!"
Victory Celebration Turns into a Rout
While the local police put the crowd at 6,500, it was obvious to everyone there that the AFP folks were in the distinct minority. The core group of AFP supporters filled a 20 by 35 foot area paced off by a local reporter. Madison's NBC affiliate reported: "A solid core of tea partiers were near the stage, but they were flanked on all sides by union protesters who have dominated protests at the Capitol for months. The tea party folks had the microphone, but the crowd had the volume, literally and figuratively."
What happened to the party? In early February, when Breitbart came to Madison, AFP had a good crowd estimated by police and reporters to be 2,500 to 3,000. By this weekend, those numbers had shrunk dramatically at a time when they were supposed to be celebrating their victories -- the passage of the collective bargaining bill and the apparent election of Justice David Prosser to the state Supreme Court.
At the back of the crowd was a man standing uncomfortably with his hands in his pockets. On the back of his windbreaker was a taped message which read: "Angry, Ashamed, Former Republican." He told me he had voted Republican for 30 years, had voted for Palin and Walker, but now was disgusted with what he was seeing. "Fundamentally, it is wrong to take away people's right to negotiate in good faith. This is overreach by the Republican Party. Abraham Lincoln would not be a Republican today."