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4/5/2010
THE TEA PARTY NARRATIVE JUST JUMPED THE SHARK

This article originally appears on the Moderate Voice.

And it was all going so well for Democrats and liberals in the media.

Display a picture or vid clip of angry, contorted faces of the tea partiers, add the race card, accuse the “core” of the movement of being birthers, and generally play to the idea that this vast, grassroots movement is a small, insignificant bunch of sour grape Republicans who hate Obama.

Well, it worked for a while. But something funny happened on the way to smearing millions of ordinary Americans worried about the future; surveys of tea partiers show them to be almost as mainstream as a McDonald’s french fry:

The national breakdown of the Tea Party composition is 57 percent Republican, 28 percent Independent and 13 percent Democratic, according to three national polls by the Winston Group, a Republican-leaning firm that conducted the surveys on behalf of an education advocacy group. Two-thirds of the group call themselves conservative, 26 are moderate and 8 percent say they are liberal.

The Winston Group conducted three national telephone surveys of 1,000 registered voters between December and February. Of those polled, 17 percent – more than 500 people — said they were “part of the Tea Party movement.” …

Yeah, yeah OK. Let’s trash the results because the Winston Group is “Republican leaning.”

I suppose Gallup is in the GOP’s pocket too?

Tea Party supporters skew right politically; but demographically, they are generally representative of the public at large. That’s the finding of a USA Today/Gallup poll conducted March 26-28, in which 28% of U.S. adults call themselves supporters of the Tea Party movement.

Tea Party supporters are decidedly Republican and conservative in their leanings. Also, compared with average Americans, supporters are slightly more likely to be male and less likely to be lower-income.

In several other respects, however — their age, educational background, employment status, and race — Tea Partiers are quite representative of the public at large. (Emphasis mine)

Gallup actually gives better numbers for party affiliation than the GOP leaning Winston Group; 48% Republican and 43% independent with 8% self identified Democrats. And did Gallup really measure 32% of all Democrats in America supporting the tea partiers?

Ooops. There goes the narrative - mostly. With 28% of all Americans supporting the Tea Partiers and 26% opposed, you are bound to get a few kooks and crazies. You know the type; the one in ten thousand who hold up a sign comparing Obama to a witch doctor who somehow is portrayed as representative of protestors.

But I find it interesting that a group that is representative of the racial makeup of the US would be…racist. Can’t use the excuse that voters aren’t aware of the charges of racism made so casually, so nauseatingly by opponents. They’d have to be oblivious to the avalanche of media reports and opinion pieces that make the racist charge so cavalierly.

Beyond that, it is also not surprising that the majority would be conservative Republicans, although one might refer to most tea partiers as “nominal Republicans” in that I doubt whether there are more than a handful of GOP politicians that tea partiers are happy with.

I have been very critical of those in the tea party movement who seek to use anger and fear as a wedge to gain support for their cause. It is still my belief that reason wins a lot more converts than screaming, and fear mongering is self defeating - as seen by the failure to stop Obamacare. That vocal minority has done more damage to the tea party movement than most are willing to admit.

But the left is going to have to start coming to terms with this group based on reality, not their own, politically motivated smears. It is possible to argue against their positions without referring to them as racist, although I admit it’s a challenge to defend deficits of more than a trillion dollars as far as the eye can see. It is also possible to critique their arguments without trying to marginalize them as kooks. “Birtherism” has been so discredited that only a fringe now tries to keep the idea alive that Obama isn’t a natural born citizen. At any rate, is is a deliberate smear to posit the notion that the “core” of the tea party movement are birthers, as the president suggested in his Today Show interview.

Is the conservatism of the tea party movement farther right, in general, than the mainstream? We have little relevant data to make any kind of intelligent determination but my sense is that there is a distinct hard right flavor that, as Gallup might indicate, places the tea partiers on the edge of mainstream politics; not fringe by any means but some distance from the “center-right” that makes up the bulk of American voters. I would peg them as more ideological than much of the mainstream which skews their views in many respects. The fact that only 28% of all adults support them while 46% either have no opinion or don’t know shows there are a lot of adults in America who are suspicious of the tea party movement, as most Americans tend to be of excessively ideological people.

But even with those caveats, you cannot escape the notion that the narrative created by tea party opponents to smear them has been dealt a serious blow by these surveys. I’m sure on April 15th, when the tea partiers gather en masse once again, that we will get the same kind of coverage in the media that we have gotten previously; ignoring the tens of thousands of peaceful, reasonable, passionate demonstrators and highlight the kooks. At least, judging from the results of the surveys, the American people appear to be looking beyond that narrative and are focusing on the message of the movement; that we are spending too much and burdening future generations with obligations they will not be able to meet.

By: Rick Moran at 9:03 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (1)

2/21/2010
GOP A BIG LOSER AT CPAC

Republican leaders were treated well enough by attendees at CPAC. They clapped in all the right places. They cheered lustily at every Obama put down. They dutifully applauded at the 100,000th mention at the conference that the GOP had learned its lesson and were now born again fiscal conservatives.

Then attendees went ahead and gave Ron Paul a victory in the presidential straw poll.

National Journal’s Hotline on Call, picking winners and losers, tags the GOP as a big loser:

What the straw poll did show is that many conservatives aren’t happy with the GOP. RNC chair Michael Steele’s fav/unfav rating is upside down, and 37% say they view GOP leadership in Congress unfavorably too. Many speeches included reminders that the GOP had its chance and lost power because of excess spending. If anything, CPAC showed the GOP is courting the Tea Party movement, but Tea Partiers aren’t sold yet.

A man much admired by many tea partyers, Glenn Beck really let the Republicans have it during his keynote address:

Beck also recalled Reagan’s use of the phrase “morning in America” from one of his TV campaign ads. “It is still morning in America, said Beck. “It’s shaping up to be sort of a nasty day, but it’s still morning in America.” Beck blamed “progressivism” in both parties as the “cancer” in U.S. politics.

“It’s big government, and we need to address it as if it is a cancer,” Beck, on the other issues facing politics. “You must eradicate it. … We need big thinkers and brave people, with spines, who can make the case [that] … it’s going to be hard, but it’s going to be ok. We’re going to make it.”

“It’s not enough to not suck as much as the other side,” said Beck, on how Republicans can regain their ideals. “The first step to redemption is admitting you have a problem. … When they do say they have a problem, I don’t know if I believe them. … They’ve got to recognize they have a problem. … ‘I’m addicted to spending and big government.’”

Beck also made the observation that, “One party will tax and spend. The other party won’t tax, but spend. It’s both of them together. I’m tired of feeling like a freak in America.”

And so it went for most of the conference. The crowd saved their biggest applause for those out of government (Gingrich, Cheney), or those challenging the establishment (Rubio), or for those who are quirky, loony politicians who want to go back to a gold standard while eliminating the Fed (Ron Paul).

“It’s not enough to not suck as much as the other side,” is very good advice from Beck. Too bad the GOP isn’t taking it. The fact is, the Republicans can make huge gains in the House and Senate simply by presenting themselves as a less sucky alternative to the Democrats. They don’t need any specific ideas. The certainly don’t think they need a new agenda.

Whatever pablum emerges as a GOP platform for 2010 I guarantee will look a lot like 2008, 2006, 2004, 2002, and 2000. They may drop anti-gay marriage and anti-abortion stuff further down the page. And there will be a something about returning to “constitutional government’ which, while I find a lot of what Obama and the Democrats are doing to be inimical to liberty, I don’t recall the Supreme Court coming out and pronouncing their agenda “unconstitutional.” For people who claim a fealty to a strict interpretation of the Constitution, I find it fascinating that they declare stuff the administration is doing “unconstitutional” when that document implies such determinations are made by the Supreme Court and not conservative activists.

Of course, judicial review is not written into the Constitution but since Marbury vs. Madison, the high court’s jurisdiction in matters pertaining to the interpretation of what is constitutional and what isn’t hasn’t been questioned. Hence, while I agree with those activists who question the constitutionality of some of what Obama has sought to do, I think it nonsensical to declare willy nilly that just because there is no mention of health insurance in our founding document, that the attempt for a government takeover of health care is, by itself, unconstitutional. It’s a horrible, stupid, ruinous idea. But unconstitutional? I will wait for the Supreme Court to decide that question.

Also, this loyalty to our Constitution seems to have its limits with many activists. I seem to recall a passage in there about Congress being granted the sole authority to declare war or something. This is a problem for many (not all) strict constructionists who appear to want government to treat what’s in the Constitution as the Revealed Word on some things, but others? Not so much.

But never fear, there will almost certainly be language in any GOP manifesto for the election that will seek a “return” to constitutional government. Asking those conservatives when we abandoned that kind of government would elicit some fascinating responses, no doubt.

All snark aside, the Republicans are in a bind. They put on a full court press at CPAC to attract, flatter, and praise the tea party movement, while seeking to move them into the GOP orbit, as Hotline explains:

The Tea Party Movement: Virtually every speaker paid homage to a movement that remains loosely defined, praising fiscal restraint and a renewed energy among activists protesting the Obama admin’s policies. The media had fun interviewing the guy in the tri-cornered hat and “Don’t Tread On Me” flag, but GOP leaders are doing their best to incorporate, and kowtow to, the movement. Anyone who can show they lead a local Tea Party group is leaving CPAC with an enormous sense of power, and the GOP is all too happy oblige.

I have no doubt that a sizable segment of the tea party movement - perhaps even a majority - will resist the siren song of Steele et. al. and remain outside the party structure. But the conservative/libertarian bent of the movement makes it inevitable that there will be some synergy between the establishment and the new grass roots simply because they are a natural fit. The Democrats aren’t interested in conservative reform and have kicked the flirtatious libertarians to the sidelines. Since there seems - at the moment - to be little energy among the grass roots for a third party, that leaves them only one place to go.

The GOP will make big gains in 2010 simply by being less sucky than the Democrats. But the difference between picking up 25 seats in the House and 4-5 in the Senate, and a Republican tsunami that sweeps the Democrats from power will be the GOP’s ability to offer a positive agenda that speaks to the fears and concerns of ordinary voters. Without something to vote for, the great independent middle of the electorate who broadly support a platform that espouses fiscal sanity and an end to legislative overreach by the Democrats, will not give Republicans the smashing victory they are capable of achieving unless there are specific initiatives that deal with their everyday problems.

It’s not enough to say you’re for the Constitution. Holy Jesus, you might as well say you’re for apple pie, and grandmothers. Republicans are going to have to earn this one by convincing the American voter that they hear their cries for help, and will respond by passing legislation that deals with the specific causes of their misery; jobs, the deficit, skyrocketing health care costs, and a promise that what happened on Wall Street that initiated this mess, won’t happen again, among other things.

Can a party and a movement that has worn its disdain for government action of just about any kind on its sleeve convince people that it now sees government as part of the solution?

That would be a trick worthy of Houdini.

By: Rick Moran at 11:20 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (11)

2/8/2010
THE TEA PARTY MOVEMENT AS ANOTHER ‘GREAT AWAKENING?’

Should the tea party movement be seen as a phenomenon as large and consequential as another Great Awakening?

Glenn Reynolds thinks so:

I attended this past weekend’s National Tea Party Convention in Nashville, Tennessee, and I came away feeling that I had seen something important. The Tea Party movement is part of something bigger: America’s Third Great Awakening.

America’s prior Great Awakenings, in the 18th and 19th Centuries, were religious in nature. Unimpressed with self-serving, ossified, and often corrupt religious institutions, Americans responded with a bottom-up reassertion of faith, and independence.

This time, it’s different. It’s not America’s churches and seminaries that are in trouble: It’s America’s politicians and parties. They’ve grown corrupt, venal, and out-of-touch with the values, and the people, that they’re supposed to represent. So the people, once again, are reasserting themselves.

Mr. Reynolds is incorrect. The Great Awakenings were very much about politics - so much so that the First Great Awakening is seen as the first stirrings of what historian Page Smith refers to as an “American consciousness.” For the first time in colonial America, a clear distinction was widely sensed between the highly stratified society in England and America’s more egalitarian, less class oriented social structure. It had a profound impact on most of the Founders who saw “moral behavior” as the true value in evaluating an individual’s worth, not his class.

The importance of this political awakening cannot be underestimated. Before we could sever our ties to Mother England, the colonists had to make the leap of logic that we were a separate people deserving of our own country. The Great Awakening was not only about renewal and reform of religion and its institutions, but also the notion that the unmistakable hand of God was at work in forging a new people, a new “race,” unsullied by the infection of aristocracy and class-based social conventions.

Admittedly, Mr. Reynolds used the term “Great Awakening”more as a metaphor than a straight comparative concept to describe the tea party movement’s importance in America.

But even as a metaphor, it doesn’t hold water. The tea party movement may be more popular than the Republican party with voters (more than both parties by independents) according to this Rasmussen poll but it is hard to see how this nebulous, self-described “bottom up” political movement can translate those good feelings into the kind of massive political power that it would take to upset the establishment in either party.

This is especially true since, despite protestations to the contrary, at least some of the tea party organizational structure is being absorbed into the Republican party - as it was always intended by establishment politicians who fed the nascent movement over the last year with cash and organizational resources. The tea party embrace of Scott Brown’s candidacy in Massachusetts revealed to what lengths some in the movement had been co-opted.

Brown’s “fiscal conservatism” runs a mile wide and an inch deep, as he will shortly prove as he takes his seat in the senate. As an alternative to the clueless Coakley, he was fine. But to imbue the senator with qualities that he has never demonstrated in his political career was either the product of wishful thinking or deliberate self-delusion. Brown is plenty conservative enough - for Massachusetts. But it is at least possible that if the Democrats re-work health care reform, he might vote in favor of it. And if the Democrats jigger cap and trade, he could vote for that too. He may even be persuaded to vote for a modified card check bill.

Brown, of course, played to the sunny side of conservatives during the course of his campaign, giving tea partiers what they wanted to hear while downplaying some of his more problematic positions on the issues. That’s politics, children. This is a politician who no more wants to “shrink” the overall size of government than any other inside the beltway, establishment legislator. A rebel, he is not. An independent conservative, he is. And what he means by “independent” is that he rejects conservative litmus tests that would pigeonhole him as the kind of revanchist politician favored by many in the tea party movement.

If Brown has been elevated to hero status despite his true colors being decidedly less conservative/libertarian than some of his supporters give him credit, what about the impact the tea party movement might have on Republican politics?

Reynolds:

And the biggest action item that she presented the crowd with wasn’t to support Sarah Palin, as most politicians would have asked, but to challenge incumbents in primary races. Primary battles aren’t “civil war,” she said. They’re the kind of competition that produces strength in the end.

This seemed to resonate with what I heard from conference attendees. Over and over again, I heard from Tea Party Activists that they were planning to take over their local Republican (and, sometimes Democratic) party apparatus starting at the precinct level and shake things up.

The sense was that party politics have been run for the benefit of the party insiders and hangers-on, not for the benefit of constituents and ideals. And most of the conference, in fact, was addressed to doing something about that, not to worship of Sarah Palin, with sessions on organizing, media skills, and the like.

First of all, I doubt whether “most politicians” would have addressed the convention asking if they could be their leader - at least none with any brains. Most tea partiers have made it clear time and time again that they wish no “leader,” but rather want to remain a nebulously organized entity with ill defined goals. Most politicians would know that and, like Palin, steer clear of overtly trying to hijack the movement for their own ends.

And primary battles aren’t “civil wars” unless that is the perception advanced by the media. ‘Nuff said there. I love the civil war going on in Florida right now with a real up and coming conservative Marco Rubio taking it to the too comfortable Bush/Republican establishment. Sometimes, civil wars are good in that they clear away the deadwood and infuse new ideas, new personalities into a party.

But Florida is an open seat race and hence, a perfect battleground for this sort of thing. Not so in some other races where a GOP incumbent would be challenged by a tea party conservative. Certainly there are allowances to be made when a conservative goes against a moderate in primaries, although just as an example, I don’t think that J.D. Hayworth is the best choice to face off against John McCain.

My point is that it is lunacy to support every insurgent against every perceived RINO across the board. Like Scott Brown, some of those moderates are the best you’re going to get from the GOP in that state. Unless you think like Jim DeMint - that it would be better to “have 30 Republicans in the Senate who really believe in principles of limited government, free markets, free people, than to have 60 that don’t have a set of beliefs…” then you have reconciled yourself not only to minority status, but also the passage of Obama’s far left agenda. The fact that Scott Brown does indeed have a set of beliefs - except they are at odds with DeMint’s narrow, parochial view of conservatism - won’t stop a lot of tea partiers from pushing for candidates who are simply too far to the right to win a statewide contest.

Yeah - but you’ll sure show them moderate RINO’s somfin, huh?

How prevalent is this attitude among the vast tea party universe? Hopefully, there are practical heads who will recognize that picking and choosing one’s fights is better than trying to nuke the party establishment because they fail some rigid, ideological benchmarks artificially imposed from outside a district or state. Questions like “How limited should government be?” will be answered differently by different conservatives across the country. Penalizing those who fail to live up to some conservatives’ ideas of a 19th century American template for “limited government” will only bring failure to the movement’s efforts.

This “Awakening” that Mr. Reynolds writes about may come about eventually. If it does, it will be the result of hard, slogging work performed by activists who eschew any kind of leadership model and rely on enthusiasm and fervent belief in their cause. It’s been done before. Look at the Democrats prior to 1968 and then view the party after McGovern’s debacle in 1972. The rioters in 1968 ended up sitting on the convention floor in 1972. And they didn’t get there because they were invited by the old-line, southern dominated Democratic party establishment.

We need more good conservatives in both parties. But is the tea party movement the right vehicle to realize that goal?

By: Rick Moran at 11:16 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (15)

4/16/2009
AN FAQ ON THE TEA PARTIES

With the tea party protests now a part of history, I thought it might be helpful to try a little FAQ about them. Consider this a handy reference for what transpired and what might happen in the future.

1. How many tea parties were held across the country?

No one knows for sure. PJTV had 850 reports from citizen reporters across the country but some of those reports are duplicate efforts from the same venue. Tax Day Tea Party pegged the number at a 1,000. I think a safe estimate would be between 750-800 with many dozen more that weren’t reported because they were too small or more spontaneous than others.

2. How many people participated? (Updated below)

Got me. PJTV has reports from the field totalling more than 221,000 protestors. While recognizing that some of those numbers may be inflated because estimating crowds - even for experts - is more seance than science, I don’t think it would be unreasonable to say that more than 200,000 people turned out to protest…what?

3. What were the protests about?

I was surprised that there appeared to be such a uniformity of purpose to the protests. By all reports I’ve read, there was the occassional anti-aborton or anti-immigration protestor in some of the groups. And small groups of Ron Paul supporters showed up at many venues demanding the dismantlement of the Fed and a return to the gold standard. But by and large, the overriding theme of the protests was as organizers hoped; a broad critique of Obama’s economic policies with an emphasis on the maintenance of economic freedom. This included protestors who were anti-high tax, anti-bail out, anti-goverment control of business, and anti-ruinous spending. The signs at many protests pointed to the idea of “generational theft” as another dominant theme.

Were the protests anti-government? Given the diversity of opinions present, that theme cannot be dismissed. There is no doubt that what anger there was at the demonstrations came from those who see government as the enemy. And given that the Democrats are currently in power, there was certainly a partisan bent to the events. But as Jennifer Rubin reported from the Washington, D.C. protest, there was plenty to say against spendthrift Republicans also and there seemed to be at least some bi-partisan finger pointing at other venues as well. It was probably more pronounced at some locations than at others but it would be wrong to say that this was completely an anti-Obama or anti-Democratic party slugfest.

4. Did the media cover the protests?

Much local media coverage both before and during the protests was reported. As far as the national media, they got into heavy coverage the day before and day of the events - with predictable results.

5. What will be the dominant impression of the tea parties of Americans who watch the news?

Again, local coverage seemed to be a little more sympathetic and balanced than what came from the national media so it is difficult to say. Since studies show that most Americans give more weight to their local news than national broadcasts, it may be a wash in the end. The bias of all three cable networks probably won’t change any minds on either side, although the shocking bias of CNN has already exposed them to ridicule in some quarters. The disimissive tone of MSNBC was entirely predictable as was the rah-rah cheerleading by Fox. If one theme is able to penetrate the hype and bias - that this was a nationwide event and hundreds of thousands participated - that’s probably the best organizers can hope for.

6. What about the coverage by PJTV? (Disclaimer: I am employed by PJ Media, a subsidiary of PJTV)

There’s nine hours of coverage you can view for free here.. I am including this in my FAQ because there has been much written on the internet about the uselessness of PJTV, how it doesn’t have a mission, how it duplicates the MSM, and how it doesn’t have a ghost of a chance of succeeding.

I have been critical of PJTV in the past for some of their business decisions and have agreed with some of the serious critques of the network. But when they do something right, it’s only fair to mention that as well.

I would guess that most of the 850 citizen journalists who contributed reports to the tea party disagree with some of that critique. After all, would you rather visit 850 sites to see what the protests were all about or one? This is an extraordinary achievement that I do not believe any MSM outlet or internet network has ever even attempted on this scale. The network basically defined itself with the way they promoted and covered these protests. They have firmly established themselves as an important voice in the conservative alternative media universe with what they accomplished. While the network still has a ways to go, I would consider this something of a breakthrough moment for them. We will have to wait and see if they can keep the momentum going and add programming both topical and entertaining to their already rather eclectic mix.

6. What were some of the largest crowds?

Most of these are not police estimates but according to this website, 25,000 turned out in Sacramento, 20,000 in Atlanta, 15,000 in Houston, 12,000 in New York City, and many reports of 10,000 in cities across the country. The biggest rallies were not necessarily in the biggest cities. It appears that many of the demonstrations held in state capitols were extremely well attended.

But what is most impressive are the unfamiliar place names of small towns and villages where 100-200 people showed up. There are many hundreds of these venues and this speaks to the widepsread nature of the uneasiness many are feeling about the president and his policies.

7. Where does the Tea Party Movement go from here?

That’s the real question and I imagine there are many answers to it. There is talk already of holding the next round of protests on July 4th. But what is needed now is a clearinghouse of sorts, a place where organizers and participants can go to exchange ideas and connect. The best place for this is online and there is already at least one website where this is possible

Aftertheteaparty.com, a creation of American Majority, a non-profit political training institute, is already up and running. And I imagine PJTV will become an important player in the growth (or failure) of the tea party movement. This must be a long term investment in time and effort if anything is to change in America. We will see if anything comes of these protests or whether people lose interest and wander off.

UPDATE

Nate Silver has done an exhausting study based on media reports of “official” crowd sizes and come up with 250,000 as a nice round number for a little more than 300 protest venues.

It appears that he listed all the largest ones so I will only say that several hundred more were probably too small to warrant coverage but that the total particpation if you add them in would mean a grand total of more than 300,000 attendees.

I think he has too much faith in “official” estimates - especially where photos contradict them. But who am I to argue with a liberal?

By: Rick Moran at 7:46 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (43)

4/15/2009
A TEA PARTY WALKBACK — OF SORTS

C’mon, what’d you expect? A full fledged mea culpa complete with sackcloth, ashes, and my kneewalking to the shrine of  tea party activism?

Not hardly.

However, I was mostly wrong when I wrote this after the first round of tea parties in February:

I will say this as gently as my curmudgeonly soul will allow; not a chance. It is delusional to believe that these tea parties are the beginning of anything except a round of raucous Bronx cheers from the left, calling conservatives out for their inexplicable, over the top reaction and unrealistic expectations for these 40 or so tea parties that went off today.

If this really was the beginnings of something profound that was tapping into the rage of the American people, there would have been not 300 but 30,000 people screaming their opposition to spendthrift Obama. People would have taken off from their jobs, bundled up against the cold, walked, rode, took the bus, or crawled their way to a protest if they were truly fed up and ready to throw the Democratic rascals out.

Instead, we get 40 events that remind me of the old Mickey Rooney Andy Hardy movies where he and Judy Garland would put on a show to save someone’s business or house. “Hey kids! Let’s put on a show!” was Rooney’s battle cry in those movies and it is an apropos slogan for the effort that went into promoting these tea parties.

When you get some money, organization, professionalism, and a little more realism, come back and see me.

Well, there still isn’t much organization and little professionalism, but it turns out that I was the one lacking realism. I failed to grasp the excitement this idea generated and how it would animate the grass roots to actually get out of their chairs and do something about the creeping statism and generational theft being perpetrated by the Obama Administration. I also failed to give any credit to the thousands of ordinary citizens who, without any help from an organized political structure and with little or no money, managed to organize around 800 of these tea parties, and make a virtue out of their inexperience by being imaginative and working hard. In the end, results count. Today will see uneven results from venue to venue but overall, will no doubt be judged a success - if not by the media then by the movement itself.

(Note to our lefty friends: By the time Fox News got around to mentioning the tea parties, more than 500 had been announced. To believe that FNC is “behind” the tea parties is delusional. Any publicity they give is, I’m sure, appreciated by the organizers. But what does it say about the “reality based community” when they so easily slough off reality in favor of paranoia and fantasy?)

But my concern in February, as it is now, is that the rhetoric about what the tea parties will accomplish will not match the reality of what actually occurs. Exaggerated claims of “revolution” as appear on the PJTV site are not only unrealistic but defeat the purpose of the movement by scaring otherwise sympathetic people off. Most Americans probably do not want “revolution” nor are they necessarily in tune with the goals of the tea party - not when 71% of Americans approve of Obama’s handling of the economy. The best that can be said is the that success of the tea parties show that many Americans are uneasy about this administration’s actions in spending our way to oblivion and that higher taxes for everybody are a dead certainty as a result.

It is amusing to watch many on the left pretend that they don’t know what the tea parties are all about - or posit wildly off base reasons for the protests that they know full well to be false. For a bunch that prides themselves on being smarter than the rest of us goober chewin’, bible thumpin’, gun totin’, cousin marryin’ rubes out here in flyover country, they sure are awful at pretending.

But for many liberals, if at first you don’t succeed in belittling the effort, why not simply make sh*t up about how the whole thing is a manufactured mirage, funded by lobbyists, and peopled by fakes:

This was easy for for Brian Beutler over at TPMDC:

That all changed on February 19, when CNBC commentator Rick Santelli erupted in anger on the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade, and proposed a “Chicago Tea Party” for traders to protest the government’s plan to provide mortgage assistance to distressed homeowners.

The idea took hold and on February 27, a handful of cities across the country hosted gatherings that involved genuine tea (or at least the use of the word “tea”). One of those tea parties occurred from 12:00 to 2:00 p.m. on Friday February 27, in Tampa, FL, organized according to the website Tampa Bay Online, by “John Hendricks, a Tampa-based consultant.”

John Hendricks turns out to be John Hendrix, who by phone earlier today described the events as completely spontaneous. “These are independent groups, not coordinated,” he says, “and most of the people, including myself, have never done anything like this.” He even said that two distinct groups in Tampa emerged simultaneously–both called the “Tampa Tea Party,” each unbeknown to the other.

I asked him where the idea came from. “Tom Gaithens,” Hendrix said. “He’s with FreedomWorks.”

“Oh really?”

“He sent an email out with his network of contacts to see who could help.”

Evil corporate lobbyists are hiding behind concerned citizens, pumping money and expertise into the protests in a classic case of astroturfing. I’m sure out of the 800+ protests planned for today, the overwhelming majority of organizers are asking, “So where’s the dough?” And all those conservative “plants” who have been hired as cut outs will no doubt ask the same question.

A little reality from Marc Ambinder:

Here is the organizational landscape of the April 15 tea party movement, in a nutshell: three national-level conservative groups, all with slightly different agendas, are guiding it. All are quick to tell you that the movement is a bottom-up affair and that its grassroots cred is real.

They are: FreedomWorks, the conservative action group led by Dick Armey; dontGO, a tech savvy free-market action group that sprung out of last August’s oil-drilling debate in the House of Representatives; and Americans for Prosperity, an issue advocacy/activist group based on free market principles. Conservative bloggers, talk show hosts, and other media figures have attached themselves to the movement in peripheral capacities. Armey will appear at a major rally in Atlanta, FreedomWorks said.

All three groups vehemently deny that the movement is a product of AstroTurfing–fake grassroots activism organized from the top down–as some on the left have claimed. They will tell you that citizens-turned-activists, upset with President Obama’s economic agenda and the financial bailout, have been calling them, asking for help and how they can organize protests on Wednesday. The movement, they say, is entirely organic: they are mostly providing help and resources to this new class of outraged conservative free-market populists, some of whom are their own members and some of whom are outsiders to politics with whom they’ve never communicated before–not even on an e-mail list.

It is arguable how many of these tea parties actually received help from any one of the three conservative groups. And I can guarantee if this was a “top down” organizational effort, you wouldn’t have the probable wildly different turnouts in various parts of the country as you will have today. Some events will no doubt see participants in the thousands. Others, in the hundreds. Still others will see a couple of families on a busy street corner with homemade signs like “Honk if you hate socialism!” If it really was as organized as many on the left claim, it would be a different story.

And you always know when the left gets stymied by something when the race card is dusted off and taken lovingly off the shelf:

Were you wondering what happened to all the rabid, wild-eyed bigots yelling, “Kill him!” and “Terrorist” and “Socialist” carrying stuffed monkey plush dolls at the McCain-Palin rallies? It’s easy in our jubilation over Obama’s victory to forget the many people in America who were deeply fearful and hate-oriented towards an Obama presidency. Those people didn’t just shrug their shoulders at the Democratic victory in Nov 2008. No, they’ve re-organized. Largely abandoned by the Republican party who tapped cynically into their ignorance, fear and hatred and whipped these folks into a racist lather as a Get Out The Vote strategy, the Tax Day Tea Party people have used the internet to find each other and organize.

[snip]

I’ve been parsing the words and the racists have been very careful to cover their tracks and fury that a black man is President. But not well enough. I’m starting to become pretty convinced at this point that “socialist” is a some kind of code word for “nigger”. Here’s an example of some of the subtle language the Tea Party people are using to describe their own movement (emphasis mine) from the Michelle Malkin blog, a central hive for the poorly informed, wild-eyed, bigoted, Fox News/wingnut blog-driven lynch, ahem I mean Tea Partiers:

I love it when liberals use the word “nigger.” They get such a thrill from it, showing how “authentic” they are and all. The fact that they have done more to contribute to the virtual slavery of African Americans by making the impoverished among them so generationally dependent on government for survival, the dripping irony of showing “solidarity with the oppressed” escapes them.

But leaving what liberals think of the tea parties behind - as well the organizers should - there is a burning question that needs answering when the last protestor leaves the venue and heads home.

Nedryun at Next Right:

But I have one concern: We show up; we protest; we go home. But what comes next?    There are events in history that impact the direction a nation takes. This could be one of those moments. I know the organizers of the National Tax Day Tea Party have begun to think about it, and I am convinced that if done right, this could be the MoveOn.org moment for the conservative movement. Think about it: MoveOn.org began as a simple petition and email list, wanting people and leaders to move on from the Bill Clinton impeachment. Consider what it is today.   To help keep the momentum of the Tea Party Revolution going, American Majority has developed an After the Tea Party plan. My challenge to those attending the Tea Parties is this: we’re showing up to protest on behalf of freedom and limited government. But that should just be the beginning. We need to take it a step further if we want to see true freedom and limited government here in America. We need implementers of freedom and limited government. If people are really fed-up with the current elected leadership of this country, then they should think about becoming the next generation of leadership. We need people to channel their passion into part of a long-term approach, and run for local office (or become more effective activists). What if we have 1,000,000 people show up on the 15th? What if 5% take up this challenge to run for state and local office on free market, limited government principles? It would be the beginning of something very, very good for this country.   That’s what After the Tea Party is about. We want people to go to www.aftertheteaparty.com and sign up. American Majority will then train those who sign up to run for office or to become a more effective activist.   I’m posting this so I can help get the word out about After the Tea Party.

Ned recommends several common sense steps that can be taken in the aftermath of the tea parties that seem to me to be eminently reasonable and doable. I am going to sign up and I would hope everyone who attends a tea party does also.

Last night on my radio show, I asked the same question - what next? - to my guests Ed Lasky and Rich Baehr of The American Thinker. Will some conservative politician try and “adopt” the tea party movement and would that be a good thing? We all agreed that some kind of leadership is necessary but that the movement should strive to maintain its independence. Clearly, there must be some kind of clearinghouse for information and ideas as well as coordination with other organizers for future events. But beyond that, perhaps I was wrong when mocking the movement as little more than aping the plot of the old Andy Hardy movies where Mickey Rooney, in order to solve a finanical problem for a friend, would snap is fingers and cry out, “Hey Kids! Let’s put on a show!”

Perhaps that is a large part of the movement’s charm - and potential effectiveness. And I guess I was stupid not to see it.

UPDATE:

See also Pat Ruffini’s “The Rise of the Right’s New Distributed Online Activism” that details the significance of the tea party movement to what Pat and others have been trying to accomplish on the net.

By: Rick Moran at 7:30 am | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (26)