Rethinking The Tea Party Chronicles Of 2009

5133203All through the spring and summer of 2009, Tea Party media hands portrayed their anti-government - and anti-Obama - protests as the voice of a genuine grass roots movement. Now it's clear that any retelling of that story also must include a discussion of the Republican operatives who were whispering play calls behind the scenes. What with so many folks out and about for the holidays, this TPM Muckraker piece failed to garner wider attention. It's still worth a read.

"The political action committee behind the Tea Party Express (TPE) -- which already has been slammed as inauthentic and corporate-controlled by rival factions in the Tea Party movement -- directed almost two thirds of its spending during a recent reporting period back to the Republican consulting firm that created the PAC in the first place."

How unusual is it for a PAC to direct $857,122 out of $1.3 million back to the organization that created it? I think it suggests a lot, though conservative blogger, Robert Stacy McCain, he of The Other McCain fame, naturally considers it to be a non-event. He writes:

"All this means is that the consulting firm used its own personnel, and paid the bills, to organize the Tea Party Express tour -- which, BTW, was a huge success. The people who worked on the tour got a paycheck from Russo Marsh, which functioned somewhat in the same role that the promoter of a rock-music concert tour would do. There is no scandal here. No crime is alleged, and there is nothing fraudulent or shady involved. TPM is being disingenuous to insinuate otherwise."

McCain is too quick to whistle foul and move on. In fact, TPM doesn't allege that it qualifies as a crime, either, though it turns out that they also obtained an email to a Patriots group where "one TPPer who had examined the filings asked, "What would the true grassroots people think if they knew their money is being spent in this manner?"

Inquiring minds would love to know. All the more so considering current events in Tehran where there's an obvious comparison to be made with a real grass roots movement - one which really is fighting against an oppressive government apparatus. Writing at Informed Comment, Juan Cole noted the irony.

"So let us get this straight. Iran is capable of throwing up a genuine grassroots democratic movement. But supposed US populism is just a project of some corporation aimed at fleecing ordinary people?"

Fair question, Juan. One might also ask whether the "grassroots" label can still apply. Considering that professional consultants tied to a GOP were clearly intent on making life difficult for a Democratic administration, the conventional narrative about the last 12 months doesn't quite fit any longer.

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    Charles Cooper is an executive editor at CNET News. He has covered technology and business for more than 25 years, working at CBSNews.com, the Associated Press, Computer & Software News, Computer Shopper, PC Week, and ZDNet. E-mail Charlie.