It’s hard work to keep a myth dead, no matter how many times you bust it. And one of my personal bete noires is the tired old saw about how the Tea Party movement is “astroturfed.”
There’s a bit of irony there. The Tea Party draws its name from a real plant, while its critics disparage it with a term derived from artificial plants.
But anyway, that’s the standard talking point from the left: moneyed interests on the right are behind the Tea Party movement, both in starting it and in sustaining it. It’s not a true “grass roots” movement (hey, there’s another plant-based metaphor! They’re springing up all over!), but a fake one.
Quite an assertion. Pity they can’t find any facts to back them up.
I’ve made that challenge several times. Over on another web site, one liberal cited a blog post that asserted that yeah, the Tea Party movement was astroturfed. Well, I went and read the article, and while it did assert it, it offered no proof, no evidence, no examples. What the writer actually did prove was that a few big figures in the Tea Party movement have accepted government funds in the past — funds utterly unrelated to their Tea Party activities.
Well, that fine fellow had a second example, which he described as “actual reporting.” I was fascinated to read this one — which turned out to be an opinion column in the Grauniad by George Monbiot, believed by some to be the fellow who inspired the term “moonbat.” (I don’t believe that he inspired it, but he certainly embodies that term as a nickname for the loony left.) In that column, Monbiot admits that the Tea Party doesn’t fit the mold of a “traditional” astroturfed group. So he invents his own definition of the term:
Some Astroturf campaigns have no grassroots component at all. Others catalyse and direct real mobilisations. The Tea Party belongs in the second category. It is mostly composed of passionate, well-meaning people who think they are fighting elite power, unaware that they have been organised by the very interests they believe they are confronting.
And then he fails to even prove that made-up definition. Oh, he hits the new Evil Conservative Boogeymen, the Koch Brothers, and Americans For Prosperity, but he can’t quite connect the dots.
Are there some moneyed interests who support the Tea Party movement? Absolutely. But that’s hardly a working definition of “astroturfing.” They offer no proof that these moneyed interests started, shaped, or steer the movement.
Finally, resident minor pain in the ass Chico wants us all to read this Rolling Stone article which also hits all the same points. Feel free to do so yourself, but let me sum up the relevant points:
- Some Tea Partiers are old, and some are on Medicare.
- The Tea Party is taking over the Republican Party, and the Republican Party is taking over the Tea Party.
- The Republican Party is terrified of the Tea Party.
- Ron Paul is the “father” of the Tea Party movement.
- Dick Armey (another boogeyman) and FreedomWorks smelled the potential of the Tea Party movement, and ran with it and built it up as best they could.
- Steve Forbes, another boogeyman, is a “billionaire turd.”
- Armey/FreedomWorks and the Koch Brothers/Americans for Prosperity conspired together to build the Tea Party.
- Rand Paul only succeeded when he managed to distance himself from his father’s crazy a little.
- Creationism is bad, and creationists are stupid Luddites.
Now, let’s take a look at actual “astroturfing” — and let’s use the Wikipedia definition, because it seems pretty good:
Astroturfing is a form of advocacy often in support of a political or corporate agenda designed to give the appearance of a “grassroots” movement. The goal of such campaigns is to disguise the efforts of a political and/or commercial entity as an independent public reaction to some political entity—a politician, political group, product, service or event. The term is a derivation of AstroTurf, a brand of synthetic carpeting designed to look like natural grass.
When I think of Astroturfing, I immediately think of two great examples: the pro-ObamaCare rallies and the recent fight over public unions in Wisconsin. And in both cases, once you look past the numbers and the specifics of the causes, certain common elements come shining through:
- Large numbers of people in identical, identifying T-Shirts
- Large numbers of identical, professional, pre-printed signs
- Big buses bringing attendees, emblazoned with logos of the sponsoring organizations and slogans
- Designated spokespeople who have their key points prepared and handouts for the press
- Schedules of speakers, along with printed transcripts of their remarks
- Central organizers who coordinate the whole thing
What do all these things need? Money, an overarching organization, and money.
Contrast that with a Tea Party rally. No uniform shirts, no masses of signs to pass out, buses chartered by private groups (like radio stations) who use them as promotions, no official spokespeople, no handouts, and a group that most often leaves the venue cleaner than they found it. Contrast it with a venue post-liberal infestation, and you need a fleet of garbage trucks and an army of trash men to restore it to its prior state.
Here is the key question that the Tea Party critics just can’t answer: they assert that there’s big money behind the Tea Party movement, that it’s conservative billionaires who are funding the whole thing to make it look like a genuine grass roots movement.
If that’s true, where the hell is all that money going?
The hallmark of the Tea Party movement is that it’s low budget. It’s cheap. People show up wearing whatever they like (including some rather silly Revolutionary era costumes), make their own signs (some of which are downright brilliant), and figure out their own way how to get there and back. They
schedule their events for when most people are off from work, or make arrangements to get out of work. (Contrast that with the Wisconsin protests, where there were several left-leaning doctors on hand illegally handing out “sick notes” so teachers wouldn’t be disciplined for blowing off work to go to the Capitol.) They don’t have designated spokesmen or security, and those who volunteer for the latter duty tend to focus on identifying and pointing out the liberal infiltrators out to make the Tea Party look bad. (I particularly like the tactic of surrounding the idiots with signs saying “WE’RE NOT WITH STUPID” and a big ol’ arrow pointing at the faker.)
So, some moneyed interests want to back the Tea Party? Sorry, they’re not for sale. They don’t need big bucks. They’re doing just fine without the benefit of the big money, professional organizers, and all the rest of the crap that liberals seem to need. Oh, they’ll accept the support of the big money people, but that doesn’t buy them anything other than a seat at the table — and that can be taken away at any time.
What Armey — and a host of other self-styled “Tea Party leaders” — remind me of is, to be blunt, a parasite. They’re trying to not just latch on to the movement, but they’re trying to run ahead of the crowd so they can claim to be leading it.
So, why do the liberals insist that the Tea Party movement is astroturfed? Some say it’s a lie, done to discredit it and strip it of its credibility. But I think there’s another element at play here:
They are convinced that the Tea Party movement has to be astroturfed because that’s how they operate, and they simply can’t conceive of it happening any other way. To them, any large movement simply can’t survive and prosper without big financial backers, professional organizers, central command and coordination, and all the rest that they use so well. The thought that large numbers of individuals — using the new forms of communication that are making the traditional media obsolete — can find others of similar beliefs, pull themselves together, and actually successfully organize themselves to achieve results.
So they have to force their own model on to the Tea Party movement. No matter how poorly it fits. Because if they admit that the Tea Party movement is exactly what it appears to be, then they have to worry that their own base might take them as an example and start organizing themselves. And if that happens, then all those who make money off the liberal base might have to find honest work.
And that is quite possibly their worst nightmare.