The Grassroots are Green, and They Fold

As soon as I saw this item, I knew who had originated it; I can smell the sulphurous stench of a PIRG come-on three thousand miles away.

It seems that, despite all the media attention lavished on e-mail appeals to his supporters, not everyone pushing for President Obama's embattled healthcare reform plan these warm August days is an idealistic volunteer in it for the sake of helping move the country forward and gaining medical attention for millions of uninsured Americans.

The website's large-type headline announces: "Work to Pass Obama's Healthcare Plan and Get Paid to Do it! $10-15 hr!"

It's a web ad on Craigslist: "You can work for change. Join motivated staff around the country working to make change happen. You can make great friends and money along the way. Earn $400-$600 a week."

So both sides appear to have paid lobbyists in this colossal summertime struggle for public opinion and control of the multi-billions flowing into the nation's burdened healthcare system.

And yup, it's the Fund for the Public Interest, the artist formerly known as the canvassing operation for the PIRGs.

Have I mentioned recently that I hate PIRG?  Well, I hate PIRG with the kind of blackhearted distilled rage that normally characterizes the breakup of a thirty year marriage.  They, and their whole canvassing operation, are a vile beast that subsists on dishonor, greed, and the rapidly disintegrating idealism of impressionable young people.

But the LA Times piece makes it sound like the Obama administration, or some other wing of the Democratic party, is hiring these volunteers.  It is, I suppose, possible, but it's not the most likely supposition.  PIRGs love national health care.  So do most of the other groups they work with.  Given that their canvassing operation is the fundraising arm of half the left-wing groups in this country, they're the obvious people to hire if you want to take your message to the streets.  I'm sure there are loads of perfectly legitimate groups out there with money to spare and a heartfelt desire to push national health care reform for its own sake.

It would be interesting to know who is paying them.  It would be  even more interesting to know what these volunteers will be saying to their victims targets over the next month.  But perhaps the most interesting question is:  why now?  Canvasses are mostly summer operations for several good reasons:  weather, and a ready supply of students with time on their hands.  I suppose weather's not a real issue in LA, and there are probably a fair number of unemployed college grads wandering around who would be happy to make $15 an hour.  But with school starting, there will be a lot fewer homeowners with time to listen.

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Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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