Polly Put The Kettle On

“..and we’ll all have Tea.”

The recent Tea Party phenomenon seems to have the American Left completely flummoxed. When they are not insulting the Tea Party activists with crude frat boy humor, they are dismissing them as ignorant dolts. When they are not busy inventing elaborate conspiracy theories to explain the momentum behind the gatherings, they are busy trying to hastily organize their own counter-protest protests.

The last time a true grassroots political movement swept through the country was six years ago, when a groundswell of opposition to our military involvement in Iraq began to organize itself through email, blogs, and online message boards. Soon thousands of people were joining together at various “meet-ups” around the nation. Some were driven by purely partisan issues stemming from the controversial 2000 Presidential election. Others were part of the implacable, rag-tag group of socialists, communists, and other fringe radicals who have encamped themselves around any sort of left-wing protest for the last 40 years. But many truly felt that the use of military force against a nation that was not directly involved in the 9/11 attack constituted a dangerous expansion of power and was unjust.

Young people were excited about the fact that they were “doing something” and “making their voices heard. The memories and the worldview of older liberals seemed to be reinforced by the passion of the younger protesters — this was about “right” versus “might,” about voices of reason and moral clarity challenging “the establishment” and “the military-industrial complex.” It was about justice and truth. It was good.

The Democratic party saw a golden opportunity in this movement, and Democratic activists and political candidates (most notably Howard Dean) began working with the organizers of these events to channel the unrest among the protesters into campaign donations and votes. But as soon as that happened, the original “grassroots” element of those protests was paved-over with professionally installed Astroturf.

ThinkProgress, Daily Kos, FireDogLake, DemocraticUnderground, MoveOn.org, Media Matters for America, Organizing For America, and numerous other professional left-wing groups and blogs subsequently spent hundreds of millions of dollars from private financiers like George Soros in order to organize citizenry around the political Left. News coverage of liberal opinion and political activism became coordinated between liberal political activists, bloggers, and sympathetic journalists through JournoList. The organized, Web-savvy New Left flexed its political muscle and ultimately triumphed, as Barack Obama moved into his new digs at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

It was all so … perfect. So right. Finally, things were the way they should be.

But then a funny thing happened. A new grassroots movement began to swell, but this time the participants were concerned about run-away government spending, the legacy of debt that we will leave to our children and our children’s children, and the staggering amount of new taxes that will be required to pay for all of these new government programs. It organized itself through blogs, through emails, through Facebook and Twitter, and called its gatherings “Tea Parties” — and none of this was done with the aid of Official Liberal “Grassroots” Organizers.

When the self-appointed arbiters of truth and justice don’t get invited to a protest, they get confused. Then they get upset. They simply can’t fathom how anyone could protest their Administration. They don’t understand how a protest built on conservative or libertarian principles could form on its own, because true grassroots protests are about truth and the greater good, and conservatism is, well, evil. There must be a vast right-wing conspiracy after all.

Blogger William Jacobsen at Legal Insurrection writes,

What is it with Media Matters and its progeny that must attempt to define and silence the Tea Parties? What do they care if people protest, if they are confident in the power of their views.

The answer lies in one of the most ingenious marketing events of all time, the Ben & Jerry’s “What’s the doughboy afraid of?” campaign. In the early 1980s, Ben & Jerry’s was an upstart “premium” ice cream maker in Vermont struggling to get shelf space to compete against Pillsbury’s Haaagen-Daz brand. But Pillsbury, as do many food wholesalers, wasn’t keen on giving a competitor room to grow, so it pressured stores not to give Ben & Jerry’s shelf space.

In response, Ben & Jerry’s hit on a protest theme: “What’s the doughboy afraid of.” The campaign took off, sprouting bumper stickers, t-shirts, and generally great publicity for Ben & Jerry’s. Pillsbury eventual gave in, and Ben & Jerry’s got its shelf space

The doughboy campaign holds several lessons for the Tea Party movement. First, the left fears loss of control. As a really good blog post notes, the left dominates the mainstream media and to a lesser extent, the internet. So the right is moving to Twitter, and now to the streets, to avoid the filtering of its message. The left-wing media machine embodied in Media Matters has trouble dealing with these alternatives, and so it attacks. It seeks to assert its control by framing the protests as contrived, when in fact the opposite is true.

The second lesson is that the more Media Matters attacks the Tea Parties, the stronger the Tea Parties become. Pillsbury learned the hard way that trying to muscle a legitimate brand with a loyal following can backfire. And so it is here; my post Tea Parties Are Sooo Scaaary generated more hits for me from more sources (blogs, posting boards, elsewhere) than almost any other post I have written.

It is true that the first Tea Party rallies attracted interest from a variety of fiscally conservative and libertarian groups. At our first Oklahoma City rally, the Ron Paulians showed up, as well as a number of people from Americans For Prosperity. (Unlike the recent events in Pensacola, neither of these groups attempted to “co-opt” the gathering.) But for the upcoming April 15th rally, the coordinators have made it clear that no politicians or political activists will be allowed to speak, and no literature, signs, petitions, or merchandise from any political organization will be allowed.

I have been part of the Oklahoma Tea Party since its inception as a Facebook group a little over six weeks ago, and I can say without hesitation that the group is not corporately funded, nationally organized, or in any way manipulated by some shadowy outfit with a secret agenda.

Perhaps this is what scares the Left the most, particularly in light of their recent organizing failures. Out of its lists of over 13 million Obama supporters, Organizing For America only collected 642,000 signatures — less than 5% — in support of the President’s budget and spending plans. And so far, the recent New Way Forward counter-protests (an unfortunate name eerily reminiscent of The Great Leap Forward that horribly ended the lives of 20 million Chinese fifty years ago) have have generally attracted only dozens, compared to the hundreds or thousands that have attended Tea Parties.

Hopefully the coordinators of the various Tea Party rallies have learned a valuable lesson from the Left, which is that partisan politics and big money will quickly destroy true grassroots enthusiasm. If you are able, take an hour or two out of your day Wednesday and support your local Tea Party rally. And don’t worry — there won’t be any black helicopters hovering nearby.

True Heroes
If this had happened six months ago ...