Political Hay

Grandma Is an Angry Mob

Grassroots activism vs. the Obama machine.

By 8.18.09

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Tom's Tavern in Phoenix was "packed to the rafters" Monday morning, Barbara Espinosa told me. "You could hardly move."

The tavern was the scene of a "Health Care Town Hall" event hosted by J.D. Hayworth, the former Arizona Republican congressman who is now a popular talk radio host on KFYI in Phoenix.

President Obama was in town to address the annual convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and Ms. Espinosa was a member of the crowd who marched from Tom's Tavern to the Phoenix Convention Center to welcome the president, carrying signs with slogans like, "Pull the Plug on ObamaCare" and "Marx Was Not a Founding Father."

Had Ms. Espinosa not been in the crowd, I wouldn't have known about the protest. She posted a notice of the Tom's Tavern rally on her blog and, using her cell phone, sent me photos of the protest that I posted on my blog.

Welcome to the Information Age, where somebody's grandma is changing the world one Facebook update at a time.

A Texan by birth, Ms. Espinosa is reluctant to publicize her age, but if it were reported that she was born when FDR was president, she might have been born the day before FDR died and Harry Truman took office. Or not.

At any rate, she is a lively twice-widowed grandmother, a shrewd businesswoman and licensed real-estate broker who has embraced online technology with youthful enthusiasm. And she's fired up about fighting the liberal agenda.

We met Saturday in Pittsburgh, where I filed a brief account about the RightOnline conference that Ms. Espinosa attended. While I worked from a computer terminal in the hotel lobby, Ms. Espinosa was working at a nearby terminal and when she said she was updating her blog, it got my attention.

"You've got a blog?" I asked, with perhaps a bit too much astonishment, and thus began a conversation that didn't end until after midnight.

Widespread public perception that the average blogger is a goateed 22-year-old dropout living in his mother's basement has no basis in fact. Most leading political bloggers are over 30, well-educated and have successful offline careers. Townhall's Hugh Hewitt -- a 53-year-old Harvard alumnus -- is more typical of top-tier New Media personalities than any scruffy dropout. "Instapundit" Glenn Reynolds (Yale Law, Class of '85) will turn 50 next year and -- as astonishing as it may seem, given her youthful appearance -- Michelle Malkin (Oberlin '92) will turn 40 next year.

While the blogosphere is not merely a playpen for young underachievers, blogging grandmothers are unusual -- but perhaps Ms. Espinosa is on the cutting edge of the New Media revolution in this regard. She was not the only grandmother in attendance at the RightOnline conference, which featured workshops on blogging, Facebook and the latest online tool, Twitter.

The Pittsburgh conference was organized by the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, and AFP has also worked closely with the Tea Party movement, which spawned Monday's protest event in Phoenix.

Liberals have claimed that the involvement of AFP and other free-market organizations -- including FreedomWorks and Americans for Limited Government -- proves that the Tea Party rallies are inauthentic "Astroturf" events controlled by Corporate America. When the Left organizes protests, that's called "community organizing" and "patriotic dissent"; when the Right does the same thing, that's called a "conspiracy."

Like other Obama administration talking points, there is little evidence for these insinuations that the Tea Party protests are puppet shows orchestrated by Wall Street fat cats and Republican bigwigs. Tea Party crowds are not afraid to boo GOP speakers -- Sen. John Cornyn got booed in Texas -- and those crowds usually include a few disillusioned ex-Democrats of recent vintage.

At the Pittsburgh conference, I interviewed Donna Scala, who explained that in her hometown of Beaver Falls, Pa., she finds herself "talking to Democrats who voted for Obama, but this isn't the 'Change' they voted for."

Not every Democrats weary of eight years of Bush's "compassionate conservatism" expected that a vote for Obama would be interpreted as a mandate for massive "stimulus" spending and other pork-packed legislation that Congress never bothered to read before passing it. Nor, apparently, had every Obama voter thought too hard about the Democratic candidate's promises to provide health care to everyone, while also lowering the health-care costs, reducing the deficit and cutting taxes.

The haste of Obama and congressional Democrats to ram through health-care "reform" before anyone could check the fine print has added new fuel to a populist backlash that began building before the ink dried on the "stimulus" bill.

Nearly every Tea Party protest features that enduring populist emblem, the Gadsden Flag's coiled rattlesnake with its famous "Don't Tread On Me" warning. And the aroused rabble are increasingly using the Internet to spread the word. Ms. Espinosa has more than 250 Facebook friends, most of them fellow activists.

When a DNC ad accused Republicans of "inciting angry mobs" at town-hall meetings, it was grassroots activists like Ms. Espinosa they were talking about. Perhaps this will create an economic opportunity for some clever capitalist sloganeer: "My Grandma Is An Angry Mob -- And All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt."

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About the Author

Robert Stacy McCain is co-author (with Lynn Vincent) of Donkey Cons: Sex, Crime, and Corruption in the Democratic Party (Nelson Current). He blogs at The Other McCain.