Selling Out Tea Party Populists

Community Organizing Ideas and Issues Town Hall

tea-partyNew Orleans The other day when I had seen a piece touting the first ever national Tea Party Convention in Nashville in February, I looked at the calendar, noted the date, and sent an email to a friend in LA suggesting we go check it out.  I know now I must have been kidding myself – the convention is too expensive to even consider at over $500 a pop being paid to a for-profit outfit called Tea Party Nation run by an entrepreneur, rather than an organizer, named Judson Phillips.

Looks like some folks are merely trying to cash in on the movement, because I  can guarantee you from my experience with the grass roots tea-people in Memphis and Springfield, they are angry and alienated and looking for a political home, but they are sure not folks who would be willing or able to write a full board check for $549, plus transport and house themselves in Nashville.   Even the dates should have made me suspicious of a Thursday through Saturday affair rather than a weekend only convention. Whoever was organizing this mess wasn’t thinking about the little people in the base who are fueling this outburst with their passion.

Looking under the hood, it seems now that many, if not most, of the real grassroots tea people are in an uproar and pulling out of any connection with what presumably would be their “own” convention.  Part of it is the Super Bowl level ticket price of course.  Part of it also seems some real upset that the queen of the ball, Sarah Palin, is reportedly receiving $100,000 to keynote the affair.  What’s up with that?  This sister is obviously completely out of politics.  I can’t believe that she wouldn’t have been willing to speak to a real Tea Party convention for car fare, and of course in her case, maybe a suit of new clothes or something.  If tea people are not her base, then she doesn’t have a base at all.  This is the problem with populist outrages that don’t have set principles.  There’s no one to shoo away the fast buck artists trying to exploit the movement.  I would bet within days – if not hours – Palin will be saying that she’s donating her fee back to the movement or waiving the $100K or whatever.  She can’t want this to stick on her shoe while she continues to act like she’s one of the regular folks.

The other problem is that this nascent populist movement seems to have been pretty much already hijacked by the Republicans who seem desperate to convert tea people into their storm troopers for coming electoral battles.  The usual 3rd party debates are happening, but without any integrity.  The Republican strategists and party apologists, including wild eyed elected officials, desperately want the tea people not to figure out how much power they might have in building an independent platform on a state-by-state level (look at the Working Families Party in New York for example).  The Republicans want to convince them that they would be spoilers, but one party’s view of spoilers is another party’s view of power brokers.

All this anger has to go somewhere, but it’s pretty clear that this fascinating and important phenomena is now splintering and as a fledgling movement is most likely to die in the pains of birth.

This anger will go somewhere.  If the right can only see dollar signs from this passion, maybe the left can finally start thinking about where this anger finds common ground on issues of jobs, trade, banks, Wall Street,and more.  At the grassroots there’s a fertile field worth walking carefully and plowing well.