A Cautious Man
April 15, 2009
Havin' A Party
Professor Balkin at Balkinization discusses today's "anti-tax" tea parties. I put "anti-tax" in quotes because, well, I'm not quite sure what the tea parties are really against. I know what some organizers claim they are about, but it's clear that a lot of the encouragement and organization has been done by people who want to redirect some outrage over stimulus costs and bailouts for their own ends. I do agree generally with his points, although I think the movement is less "organic", and more encouraged by special interests, than he does. But this point especially is important:

Fifth, although the participants in the tea parties may state that they are not interested in what professional politicians have to say, and are not affiliated with the Republican Party in any way, one cannot take these assertions too seriously. The movement for balanced budgets and term limits during the 1990s was also anti-Washington and anti-professional politician. It was quickly absorbed into the Gingrich revolution, which was supported by and produced any number of professional politicians. Part of the point of the tea party protests is remaking the Republican Party, and as the coverage on Fox News indicates, there are plenty of ambitious people in conservative politics that are only too happy to help the protesters along. The likely trajectory of the tea parties will be as part of a reform and/or purification of the Republican Party along right wing populist lines. No doubt some Republican operatives and politicians will try to ride the anger of this movement to electoral success, while others will wait to see if the movement generates sufficient power and if it does, go along.

He also notes the comments of the "Instant Pundit", Professor Reynolds, in a column in today's Wall Street Journal, who claims that this is entirely a "from the ground up" movement. Now, since Professor Reynolds has been relentless marketing the "tea party" concept on his site, it is a little disingenuous for him to claim, in the WSJ:

The tea-party protest movement is organizing itself, on its own behalf. Some existing organizations, like Newt Gingrich's American Solutions and FreedomWorks, have gotten involved. But they're involved as followers and facilitators, not leaders. The leaders are appearing on their own, and reaching out to others through blogs, Facebook, chat boards and alternative media.

What I think has happened is that the usual list of right-wing media operatives have been encouraging the creation of this "spontaneous" movement. Fox News has a dedicated "Tea Party coverage" page on their "Fox Nation" website. There's a GOP.com Tea Party website, from which you can send a teabag postcard to Democratic officials. The "Tax Day Tea Party" site and the "Tea Party Day" website (from the American Family Association) are rife with right-wing rhetoric left over from the Presidential campaign.

In general, with regard to the Fox claim that they're just "covering" the protests - if, for example, Fox News has morning hosts with "teabag protest" t-shirts, talking about what a big event it's going to be today - they're promoting it.

I think there are a lot of people who have been angered by the amount of money going towards bailouts, and who are concerned about government spending in connection with the stimulus bill. The "tea party" movement seems to be a tool to pull them into the orbit of the right wing's other issues, including anti-immigration, conservative social issues, anti-environmentalism, and general anti-Obama-ism.

One more thing - there will be two stories today. One is what actually happened at these "tea parties", and how many people actually showed up. The other is the "spin" we'll be getting from Fox.



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