The Immaculate Convention
"I'm mad, I'm really mad," the man said, adding, "It's not the economy. It's the socialist taking over our country." If you thought those words came from one of the 600 faithful breathlessly waiting to hear from Sarah Palin at the National Tea Party Convention in Nashville, you could be forgiven for your error. Virtually identical in tone and content, that frothing at the mouth anger was instead just one highlight of a McCain-Palin town hall rally in October 2008. Which just goes show that the supposed grassroots Tea Party movement, generously fertilized by Republican special interest funding and a complicit media looking to manufacture conflict and ratings, is simply a continuation by other means of the right-wing rage from the 2008 election.
Consider, for example, the Washington Post's description today of the assembled Birthers, Birchers, Deathers and Deniers in Nashville. Rather than thanking President Obama for the tax cuts 95% of working households received, the Tea Party followers stand the history of "no taxation without representation" on its head:
The 600 delegates at the National Tea Party Convention feel taxed to death, ignored by their elected representatives and the media, and appalled at the federal government's spending -- and there are millions of Americans just like them. Their anger has helped claim some political scalps, and they vow to "take back America."
"I think you might be confusing tyranny with losing."
For proof, look no further than the Washington Post's October 9, 2008 article, "Anger Is Crowd's Overarching Emotion at McCain Rally":
There were shouts of "Nobama" and "Socialist" at the mention of the Democratic presidential nominee. There were boos, middle fingers turned up and thumbs turned down as a media caravan moved through the crowd Thursday for a midday town hall gathering featuring John McCain and Sarah Palin.
While Slate political analyst John Dickerson described "a Republican mob scene," a CNN headline that same day reported, "Rage rising on the McCain campaign trail." Compare campaign 2008 footage (above) from Alexandra Pelosi's documentary, "Right America: Feeling Wronged" or "The McCain-Palin Mob" to any Tea Party hate fest highlight reel. By and large, the only thing that's changed is the dates.
Well, that and two other things.
First, from almost the moment Barack Obama took the oath of office, the Republican propaganda infrastructure mobilized - massively - to Astroturf grassroots unrest. In April, Fox News stars fanned out to appear at the Tax Day Tea Party protests. In the fall, Glenn Beck's supposed 9/12 campaign amped up the volume further. And this week, Fox alone has dedicated live coverage to the National Tea Party Convention in Nashville.
And to be sure, the ersatz revolution wasn't just televised by the organs of the Republican Party, but funded by their donors as well. As ThinkProgress documented here, here, here and here, Dick Armey's FreedomWorks and other of the usual suspects among Republican moneymen showered cash and organizational expertise on the Tea Baggers.
But while necessary, the care and nurturing from the Republican's right-wing media and money network was not sufficient to catapult the Tea Party events into a perceived national movement. That required the second new ingredient: the American media which in its continuing transformation of politics into just another form of entertainment saw in the Tea Parties a boon to its ratings.
That became abundantly clear in August, when the coverage of the fury and threats at Democratic town hall meetings almost single-handedly derailed health care reform. And by September, the networks were carrying water for FreedomWorks and the mobs it underwrote by inflating their numbers by orders of magnitude.
After FreedomWorks president Matt Kibbe wrongly inflated the estimates of the 9/12 crowd in Washington DC at 2,000,000, ABC and others eventually corrected the fraud. But that didn't stop the conservative blogosphere from parroting the charade debunked by both DC police - and simple comparative photography.
As Nat Silver concluded in "Size Matters; So Do Lies."
The way this false estimate came into being is relatively simple: Matt Kibbe, the president of FreedomWorks, lied, claiming that ABC News had reported numbers of between 1.0 and 1.5 million when they never did anything of the sort. A few tweets later, the numbers had been exaggerated still further to 2 million. Kibbe wasn't "in error", as Malkin gently puts it. He lied. He did the equivalent of telling people that his penis is 53 inches long.
Now, the circle is complete. A global press contingent descended on Nashville this week to interview Tea Party Convention attendees the media likely outnumbered. As CNN's Jack Cafferty described it Thursday:
"Hundreds of mostly conservative independent activists descending on Nashville, Tennessee, for the first-ever National Tea Party Convention.
The movement began in small towns and large cities across the country, with people protesting against President Obama's economic and health care policies. And it's grown from dozens to hundreds of loosely-linked grassroots groups. Tea partiers have varying political views, although they generally agree on fiscal conservatism and the idea that the federal government has become too powerful. Hard to argue with that."
Jack Cafferty will get no argument from the leading lights of the Republican Party. Sarah Palin, Rep. Michele Bachmann, Senator John Cornyn and RNC chairman Michael Steele among other GOP mouthpieces insisted the Republican and Tea Parties should merge. As Jim Demint (R-SC) put it:
"We need to stop looking at the tea parties as separate from the Republican party."
On Saturday night, Fox News, CNN and MSNBC will take the unprecedented step of offering live coverage of the keynote address by half-term Alaska Governor Sarah Palin to the Tea Party Convention. But while the stature granted a failed vice presidential candidate is new, the venom and fury of the Tea Baggers themselves is not. Their spectacle in Nashville didn't miraculously appear overnight, but was birthed by a right-wing Republican Party long ago.