Lawmaker Explains Tactic Behind Giving Sebelius ‘Websites for Dummies’ Book

National Journal
Andy Meek
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Andy Meek
Nov. 4, 2013, 3:42 a.m.

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.”

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