WASHINGTON--Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told me Tuesday the folks protesting President Obama's health care overhaul at town halls hosted by Democrats are "tea baggers" and "birthers" -- using the newly spawned terms as political shorthand to describe Obama antagonists.
It seems to me a reason Obama pushed Congress to approve major chunks of health care reform legislation before House and Senate members left for the August recess is that members go back for summer meetings with voters and get un-nerved by protesters and attack ads. Some Democratic town halls have already been disrupted.
With much left to do on health care when Congress returns, Durbin and other Democratic leaders lunched with Obama Tuesday at the White House to map strategy.
Afterward, outside the West Wing, I asked Durbin if he was concerned about a possible loss of momentum, and his reply referred to militant anti-taxers and folks who no matter what evidence is put before them refuse to believe Obama was born in the United States.
"Let me tell you, these town hall meetings have now been orchestrated by the tea baggers and the birthers to just be a free-for-all, make a lot of noise, go on YouTube and show discord," said Durbin. "I mean that is what they are determined to do. But that is not going to accomplish what we need to accomplish: real health care reform."
The Obama-controlled Democratic National Committee is portraying its foes as on the political fringe, accusing "Republicans and their allied groups" of "inciting angry mobs," calling them "a small number of rabid right wing extremists."
Today Obama travels to Elkhart, Ind., and his team is working to pack the crowd at Monaco Coach Products in Wakarusa, Ind., sending out e-mails Tuesday night urging Obama supporters to attend. "We need to show that we're sick and tired of the fear-mongering," one e-mail said.
The birthers and tea baggers face a potent Democratic organizing weapon at Monaco: Refreshments will be served.