Tea Party Aftermath: Sounds Like A Success to Me
Tax Day is over, and despite plenty of rain and ridicule, limited-government tea partiers around the country had their day in the spotlight, garnering a perfectly reasonable amount of media coverage for their message.
So was it all a success? Pollster/blogger Nate Silver estimates it at around 262,025, “with a fair number of smaller events unaccounted for.” Sounds pretty good to me. Now we’ll see if the arguments made translate into broader public opposition to government spending or any concrete political force.
I see that commentators on both the left and the right are still butting heads over the “authenticity” issue. As I keep repeating: I don’t think there’s any reason to think that this is a particularly important question. The relevancy of the Tea Parties rests on the ability of a particular bloc of limited-government voters and interest groups to coalesce around a cause. It really doesn’t matter whether the organizational structure was top-down or bottom-up (and it clearly had elements of both at play): it got people out, active, and relatively unified. You can think that the concerns and arguments of the people involved were invalid or misguided, but a quarter of a million people is not by any means a sham protest, and the people that came out were, even if nothing else, sincere about their cause.
I’ve organized events for political candidates, and honestly, I never thought of the people who came out to them as “astroturf” anything. Yes, campaigns create the events, control most of the message, and spend lots of time building the crowds (what, you really thought that people just randomly show up to 9am rallies on a workday by chance alone?). But they generally do this by inviting real people: letting them know that something they already support and care about has a particular outlet in activism or attendance. The methods for making this happen are always evolving (phone, email, twitter, etc.) and the organizational structures that make it happen vary widely (centralized and planned vs. decentralized and spontaneous). But the end result is the same: a crowd of people that feel passionately about something show up, socialize, network, and so on.
And it’s the numbers that matter. True “astroturf” is a matter of faking broad public support for an issue by mass-producing letters-to-the-editor, events with inflated numbers, faked petitions, and other such tricks. That wasn’t the case here: real people showing up are real people showing up.
Liberals who get stuck on the matter of “how” it happened, aside from looking to see if there are any interesting organizational lessons to be learned, are largely wasting their time by patting each other on the back for the best quip or undermining analysis. What they should be asking is “so what is the movement now capable of doing, and can we match it if we need to?”