In this morning’s Philadelphia Inquirer, Stephan Saisbury, who covers the culture beat for the paper, reviewed Jill Lepore’s new book, The Whites of Their Eyes: the Tea Party’s Revolution and the Battle  over American History, and in the process perhaps helped me formulate a better answer than I have managed heretofore to the complaints I get from the same people again and again that I either a) really don’t understand the real anger than drives the Tea Party “revolution”  or b) keep changing my story about who they are and who is behind them’

I fully believe every word of the following to be true and believe is reflects what I have said from the beginning (underlining added to stress my point):

Lots of tea party folks are angry: about taxes and welfare and federal power and many other things. But what has given the tea party visibility, put a public face on it, wrapped it in that “Don’t Tread on Me” flag and put it on bus tours, has been conservative marketing, primarily driven by communications outlets owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. and by advocacy groups such as Dick Armey’s FreedomWorks.

I certainly wish Lepore had explored this a bit further, but marketing and funding are not part of the story she wants to tell. We do learn that the Tea Party Express, which has a major role in her narrative, grew out of Our Country Deserves Better, an anti-Obama political action committee. But we never learn about the direct role of right-wing and Republican public relations and advertising operations in creating the Tea Party Express, nor do we learn the role of right-wing funders such as David Koch and Koch Industries in souping up the Tea Party Express message and methods.

This matters because it sheds some light on what has become known as “astroturfing” in political circles – the practice by corporate interests of using large amounts of money to subsidize and manipulate seemingly independent and spontaneous events and movements.

Does the tea party movement tap into legitimate, grassroots displeasure with the state of America? Absolutely. How that displeasure manifests itself, however, is often a function of corporate marketing money.

What I’d add is that the deliberate choice of ignorance over information, anger over logic and “one of us”-ness as not only good enough but preferable to all other options is neither anything to celebrate nor to embrace as a desirable rubric for American politics going forward.


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