Brian Kelsey, a Republican state senator from Tennessee, wanted to get his opposition to the Affordable Care Act across in a creative way when he heard Kathleen Sebelius would be visiting a Memphis library in his district on Friday to talk up the legislation.
Before Sebelius' arrival, Kelsey's office issued a press release announcing he'd show up at the library "in protest of the visit," though offering no details. He had something more specific in mind, though – presenting Sebelius with a copy of the book "Websites for Dummies," a jab at the problem-plagued launch of the government's new health insurance website.
"I've been the most outspoken opponent of Obamacare Medicaid expansion in Tennessee," Kelsey said afterwards. "When I read Secretary Sebelius was coming to my district, I wanted to convey to her that Tennesseans (don't) want her designing an expansion program for us. I had only two seconds to convey that message to her, so I thought the book would be a creative way to ensure she remembered the message."
As the event got under way, Kelsey was visible near the TV cameras in the back, typing on his phone. Sebelius was flanked onstage by supporters and local politicians as she urged the crowd to give the health care law a chance to work.
She acknowledged problems with the rollout of the website and insisted there's still plenty of time for the public to use the site to enroll in new health plans.
Kelsey eventually made his way closer to the front of the room. When the event was over and the crowd began to disperse, with some people surrounding the secretary, Kelsey approached her and presented her with the book.
She took it without responding. She continued walking past Kelsey, still holding the book, and eventually passed it off to an aide. Kelsey dashed off a tweet – "Just presented Sec Sebelius with "Websites for Dummies."
He didn't think anyone had seen or paid attention to the exchange – except a newspaper photographer had, catapulting the moment from a private encounter to the broader Web, where it set off a torrent of social media chatter and garnered coverage at sites like Buzzfeed, the Huffington Post, Business Insider, and a variety of other news blogs, in addition to National Journal.
Late Sunday, Buzzfeed's post about the incident alone had garnered nearly 20,000 total views.
"Most epic move of the century? I say yes" tweeted Town Hall conservative columnist Katie Pavlich about the encounter.
Kelsey said his own Twitter account had garnered barely a handful of @mentions in the past two years, and now he had new tweets directed at him each new time he checked.
When asked why he thought the encounter resonated so widely, he said: "The American people are tired of the federal government spending trillions of our grandchildren's dollars on programs that don't work.
"Tennessee is one of the last states that has not made a final decision on whether to expand our Medicaid program under Obamacare. We simply do not have the money to pay for it. When Congress breaks its promise to pay 90 percent of the funding in the future, state taxpayers will be left to foot the bill."