Primordial Astroturf and Operation Coffeecup: Ronald Reagan waged AMA's war on 'socialized medicine' in the kitchen

Operation Coffeecup: Ronald Reagan’s Effort to Prevent the Enactment of Medicare

The bright lights that sweat the brows of posturing politicians usually avoid throwing shadows onto the curtains that obscure their campaign machines.  Recent elections have provided more than enough evidence for how ugly it can get behind the scenes.

But President Ronald Reagan was so effective in the emotional appeal of his persona that, no matter the legacy, the images of the Reagan era have inescapably haunted his followers ever since. 

As I've learned to peer behind the curtains to understand what is really intended by the holograph at the podium, more often, than not, it's another alumnus of the Reagan-Bush White House that I find piping messages about the shining city on the hill into the wireless microphone. 

The need for Reaganist appeal is apparently vast and marketable.  At least enough to create an entire industry and lifetime careers pitching policy dreams and nightmares through 'third-party' astroturfing and PR campaigns for moving just enough of public opinion to enable boots-on-the-ground lobbyists to convince elected officials to their objectives at thousand dollar a plate fundraisers.  Modern astroturfing includes forests of policy think tanks that launder the industry message through anti-tax or 'freedom' philosophical arguments and then push their expert opinion through cable news and Sunday talk shows to be picked up and carried on the banners of outraged 'non-partisan, non-profit' corporate-funded fronts of grassroots activists.

How fascinating it is to find that Ronald Reagan was a 'third-party' message-launderer of the American Medical Association's fight against the evil of socialized medicine, now known as Medicare.


These were the public face of the campaign, the very visible components of the AMA’s overall strategy. But there was also a more-stealthy component to the campaign, one that depended for its success on its sponsorship and origins being hidden from the members of Congress who would be lobbied under its aegis. This was Operation Coffeecup.




The record was the focus and the central product of Operation Coffeecup. It was the motivational message from Reagan that was expected to inspire the attendees to write those spontaneous letters to Congress. The AMA pressed 3,000 copies of Ronald Reagan Speaks Out Against Socialized Medicine and distributed them to AMA Womans Auxiliary members nationwide. The resulting letters to Congress, the AMA boasted, were legion.22 At the June 1962 convention each state President presented the highlight accomplishments of her state during the preceding year. The convention was told that Operation Coffeecup spurred many members-at-large to personal action, and one state president reported that one of her auxiliary members was personally responsible for getting 250 people to write letters to Congress opposing the King-Anderson bill.


It's important to get the larger picture of this effort and to place it in context of both Reagan's life and the specific task to which he was set by the American Medical Association.

So, really, go read "Operation Coffeecup," it's a lesson in American history of which I've been ignorant until now. More than that, however, you'll see origins of this year's debate.

But, personally, it's just darn fascinating to know that Reagan was not just an emotional icon for the modern astroturf industry, he was one of its early actors!


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called him the "plastic president", but it seems he was more like rubber.