Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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April 12, 2009

MISUNDERSTANDING THE 'GRASSROOTS' CONCEPT.... Media Matters' Karl Frisch notes Glenn Beck's role in this week's Tea-bagging events. It points to a larger truth that often goes overlooked.

Beck isn't just helping with turnout. Discussing his participation in the upcoming protest at the Alamo in San Antonio on his syndicated radio program, Beck announced, "I'm going to do a fundraiser for them" to help defray costs. "So you can come and you can have lunch with me. ... I don't know any of the details, but I've heard it's like $500 a plate or something like that."

While the notion of someone paying $500 to have lunch near Glenn Beck is itself amusing, I think Oliver Willis captures the broader significance: "When people were protesting the Iraq War, they didn't have $500 a plate fundraisers. Then again, they didn't have sponsorship from Fox News, the backing of corporate lobbyists and the attendance of prominent conspiracy theorists like Alan Keyes."

Right. Even after all the teaching moments of the last decade or so, it seems the right still doesn't quite get the meaning of the word "grassroots." Conservatives still seem wedded to a top-down model.

We've seen this play out several times of late. Remember "Freedom's Watch"? Conservatives decided they needed their own version of MoveOn.org, so some loyal Bushies went to a right-wing billionaire for seed money, and the top-down game was in motion. The result, despite considerable hype, was a bust, and the far-right group has already folded.

There's some evidence to suggest the Tea Parties are following a similar trajectory. These right-wing events aren't just coming together naturally; they're the product of Fox News and corporate lobbyists. This is practically a textbook example of "astroturf." That Glenn Beck is charging $500 a plate to have lunch with him, to help subsidize the effort, only helps reinforce the larger dynamic.

Conservatives too often think, "We'll get some money together, deliver a right-wing message, and the grassroots will come together. It'll be awesome." Except, it never is.

This isn't to say turnout will necessarily be low on Wednesday; I wouldn't be surprised if far-right voters turned out in substantial numbers. The point is, corporate-sponsored events, thrown together with no clear purpose or specific aims, are not the foundation for a political movement or effective activism.

Steve Benen 9:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (35)

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how much to throw up near glenn beck?

Posted by: mellowjohn on April 12, 2009 at 9:41 AM | PERMALINK

Same reason why most authoritarian Cons didn't get Asymmetrical Warfare (aka Guerilla/insurgent warfare) or any sort of real grass roots organization.

Most can't see anything except an organization where a "grand poobah" (being themselves of course) directs all because they firmly believe in the indispensable man.

Posted by: Former Dan on April 12, 2009 at 9:46 AM | PERMALINK

hard to imagine "conservative grassroots" these days... unless a big group wanted to get together to stomp the shit out of some scapegoat.

the whole "conservative grassroots" movement is based on me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me and little ol' me.

Posted by: neill on April 12, 2009 at 9:51 AM | PERMALINK

"Conservatives too often think, "We'll get some money together, deliver a right-wing message, and the grassroots will come together. It'll be awesome." Except, it never is."

Except for, oh, the last thirty years of Republican dominance of the national agenda. That was probably pretty awesome for them. Their old game doesn't seem to be working as well these days, but you can't really blame them for going back to methods that have been pretty successful over the last few decades.

Posted by: ambivalentmaybe on April 12, 2009 at 10:05 AM | PERMALINK

As Glenn Beck works Santa Monica Boulevard - Hmmm, dinner with him costs $500, but, "Tea Bagging" with him is extra, eh?. Does he provide the showers?

Posted by: berttheclock on April 12, 2009 at 10:07 AM | PERMALINK

There's a local event of some sort (it's a little interesting to imagine the demographics of a modern Boston Tea Party, here in Boston), but they're holding the damn thing from 11am to 4pm. Don't they risk being overrun by jobless DFHs? After all, aren't responsible Americans all hard at work in the middle of a weekday like that?

Posted by: dr2chase on April 12, 2009 at 10:09 AM | PERMALINK

I say we set up a fund to buy Colbert and Stewart a seat at that table.

Posted by: John R on April 12, 2009 at 10:10 AM | PERMALINK

Steve, I'd be careful with this line of analysis. Remember that a big dollar voter often has more power than a small dollar voter. This is particularly true when the business community is activated en masse. Remember the 1994 backlash against healthcare reform? Also recall that state-by-state organizing by special interests can play a powerful role in presidential elections, e.g., in 2000 Gore lost West Virginia due to organizing by the coal industry and Tennessee because of the NRA.

I wouldn't be surprised if initial efforts to rally the Republican base turn out to be underwhelming. But give it time. Obama's agenda of wide-ranging change is the political equivalent of hitting a number of hornet's nests simultaneously. It will inevitably stir up a potent opposition. Let's hope that opposition stays disorganized and lacking in an effective communicator to independents and more conservative Democrats.

Posted by: Dr Lemming on April 12, 2009 at 10:16 AM | PERMALINK

Isn't tossing your teabag into a river or lake, littering? Are there ecological issues with caffeinated riverbeds? These clowns have every right to their silly and pointless astroturfed temper tantrum. But shouldn't they be held responsible for the cleanup?

Posted by: JoeW on April 12, 2009 at 10:18 AM | PERMALINK

Of course the right are wedded to a top down model. They will always be wedded to a top down model. That is their entire purpose.

These people draw their importance from their relationship to people of importance. By recognizing the upper classes of society, they gain proxy membership in the club.

In the UK there are legions of 'monarchists' who avidly follow every move of the royal family. Eagerly absorbing every tidbit from the tabloids while tut-tuting the intrusive behavior of the paparazzi who have destroyed the marriages of at least two of the children.

They know that their collective actions are anything but respectful, but they cannot help themselves, they know no other way of living other than vicariously through the lives of others.

Beck, Rush and co fill the same function. They provide trailer trash at the bottom rung of society with a way to sneer at others in their exact same position and feel superior to them. They don't care that Rush and Beck lie and make up 'facts'.

Posted by: PHB on April 12, 2009 at 10:25 AM | PERMALINK

"You are hereby ordered to be spontaneous and creative until further notice!"

Posted by: Dennis-SGMM on April 12, 2009 at 10:34 AM | PERMALINK

These right-wing events aren't just coming together naturally; they're the product of Fox News and corporate lobbyists.

And you say the right is subject to conspiracy theories ! Keep on thinking that. Why wake up before you have to?

Posted by: Mike K on April 12, 2009 at 10:35 AM | PERMALINK

Any group who protests lower taxes on themselves and a 3% higher marginal tax increase on the wealthy deserves all of the respect they get.

Posted by: Dennis-SGMM on April 12, 2009 at 10:41 AM | PERMALINK

Has anyone yet heard an actual plan or position from the tea-baggers as to what they are specifically opposed to? I can imagine the planners are opposed to the higher 3% rate but what are the ordinary people actually opposed to?

Posted by: JohnN on April 12, 2009 at 10:57 AM | PERMALINK

Has anyone yet heard an actual plan or position from the tea-baggers as to what they are specifically opposed to?


Posted by: funny on April 12, 2009 at 11:18 AM | PERMALINK

Um...maybe you should be more familiar with the timeline.

There were hundreds of tea parties scheduled before Fox News or Glenn Beck even mentioned them. And it is my belief they will fail because they have no financing, no organization, no clue about what to do AFTER the tea parties on April 15. Your thesis is correct; the right don't do grass roots very well. But it is incorrect to label the tea parties a "top down" operation.

It is laughable to call this movement "astroturfing." The fact that the original "reporting" on this nonsense was so thoroughly debunked that Playboy was forced to remove the article from its website should easily disprove that theory.

And considering the millions that Soros et.al donated to Moveon, to try and posit that organization as anything but a tool of the Democratic party is absurd.

Posted by: Rick Moran on April 12, 2009 at 11:52 AM | PERMALINK

And this $500.00/plate dinner will guarantee that beck will not have to mix with 'the common folk" that is suppose to be at the heart of this "revolt".
It will just be all those 'folks" that don't want the tax breaks they have gotten used to taken away from them.
If he really wanted to help, he should have had a $10.00 lunch and let everybody see him.
These poor people are being manipulated into this revolt by these power hungry republicans and they don't even realize it.

Posted by: Diane on April 12, 2009 at 11:57 AM | PERMALINK

The "conservatives" (I can't call them real conservatives) are essentially missing how the game has changes. They build a large top-down media and campaign machine that USED the grass roots very effectively.

Two problems followed:
A) That's the only model they have and it only works when people want to be led around by the nose.
B) Their governing policies didn't work due to bad ideas, forgotten ideals, and a messiah-creation system that looks to anoint some special leader even if he or she is unqualified.

They've missed the fact the world has changed, that there are real grassroots movements, and frankly they do NOT know how to make things work on a real-life level.

They're stuck.

Posted by: Steve on April 12, 2009 at 12:03 PM | PERMALINK

San Diego's "tea party" was on the local news last night. They said "hundreds" turned out to oppose tax increases. Instead of throwing tea in the bay, they took turns smacking a pinata with a big stick. (Since alot of Californians are ecology-minded, I was wondering if they'd actually throw tea into the water.)

Since most of us don't have a federal tax increase, I have to assume they were protesting a rise in state sales taxes. Our town voted to raise the sales tax to 9.5% (from 8.75%) in order to fund the fire departments in the area. That increase was on the ballot last fall, so the government didn't institute that increase.

I don't think they're protesting taxes, or budgets, etc. I think they just need an outlet for their sorrow. It's like a big funeral wake for the GOP.

Posted by: VA2CA on April 12, 2009 at 12:13 PM | PERMALINK

And considering the millions that Soros et.al donated to Moveon, to try and posit that organization as anything but a tool of the Democratic party is absurd.

George Soros -- the nonsensical argument of last resort. As long as George Soros exists, right-wingers will never have to actually think through an argument.

Though it is pretty funny that you're arguing that an official Political Action Committee (PAC) that lobbies to get legislation passed as its primary work and Fox News, which is supposed to be a news organization, are exactly the same thing.

Posted by: Mnemosyne on April 12, 2009 at 1:01 PM | PERMALINK

The whole teabagger shtick is being funded and promoted by some very rich Right Wing nutjobs, and is tremendously popular with a nutjob fraction which feels unrepresented or inadequately represented by the Republican party.

HOWEVER, we may be watching the FUTURE of the Republican party or whatever is created to replace it, and it could become a VERY SERIOUS PROBLEM if the economy drops us into a Depression. This is EXACTLY how Hitler got started (so in that sense, it's a classic Rove maneuver, accuse your opponents of exactly what you are doing.)

Everybody needs to watch Network again and pretend it's not a satire, but an object lesson in how to pull this $hit off.

Posted by: Glen on April 12, 2009 at 1:06 PM | PERMALINK

A thoughtless, fact-free, right-wing comment from "Rich Moron"? Quelle surprise.

RM's a parody troll.

Posted by: right? on April 12, 2009 at 1:09 PM | PERMALINK

There is a larger, more serious, problem than our jocular attention to the Fox News “Tea baggers;” worse than our joy at their petty foibles, through which we enable their entertainers; and completely deleterious to the unity of our American polity:

What are the proper and legal processes for judging and prosecuting sedition?

Saying there are “seventeen” socialists in Congress is simple projection, the start of a witch hunt. That projection must be blunted by asking, “Just who is attacking our president and country with words that inflame, with deeds that foment insurrection?”

Did any Americans hear of an Alaskan or Texan secession ten years ago? When did the media decide Bachman, Limbaugh, Gingrich, Rove, Beck, Steele, and a host of naysayers, including Chuck Norris, would garner a bully platform? There is no need for a conspiracy. Simple greed and a desire for self-protective power, coupled with the wherewithal of money, provide a personal and familial solution that is wholly un-American and definitely not Christian.

The question looms: Who is paying for these clowns? Who is buying us?

There is a bottom line: Everyone – you, me, and whole segments and sectors of our society have a price. We need go back no further than ancient Rome to appreciate how cheap the solution of “bread and circus” bears as apropos today. The Rich have a scam that 99 percent of humanity can not counter.

Posted by: Bob Johnson on April 12, 2009 at 1:24 PM | PERMALINK

As much as i've enjoyed mocking the tea baggers on this, i am beginning to think we take this lightly at our own peril because of the utter incompetence of the media.

Here in normally moderate, normally half-way intelligent Iowa, i heard two local news teams teasing their stories on the local tea parties last night. Both of them made a positive comparison to "just like the country's Founding Fathers." WTF? Did someone take away these peoples' right to vote when I wasn't looking?

I didn't hear any local news call them on protesting a 3% increase in the top marginal tax rate -- indeed, most of the clueles youths they showed drawing signs would have lower taxes under the Obama plan. If this is all the better the media is going to do, the low-information folks may well come to think the tea freaks are onto something.

Posted by: zeitgeist on April 12, 2009 at 2:38 PM | PERMALINK

Dear boy,
do put down the kool-ade and pay attention. The TDTP movement began well before FN ever heard of it, whatever the journolist might like to think.
As far as FN, there is a quote from Ghandhi that applies: "There go my people, I must hurry to catch up with them for I am their leader."


Posted by: Howard Roark on April 12, 2009 at 2:42 PM | PERMALINK

Glenn Beck...Glenn Beck... isn't that the guy going on a comedy tour? I guess he misunderstood when he heard all of us laughing. We're not laughing *with* you, buddy - we're laughing *AT* you.

Posted by: Limbaugh's Diabetes on April 12, 2009 at 2:56 PM | PERMALINK

corporate-sponsored events, thrown together with no clear purpose or specific aims,
No, they do have a clear purpose: ruining Obama/Democrats and progressive action, and returning the nation to Republican/Christianist/Plutocratic domination.

Posted by: Neil B ☼ on April 12, 2009 at 3:20 PM | PERMALINK

I see the useful idiots are out in full force.

Posted by: AnonymousConservativ on April 12, 2009 at 6:14 PM | PERMALINK

I'm kind of tired of the term 'grassroots.' It's lame. It's become a derogatory term for marks that are good for a buck but otherwise matter nothing to the representatives their support helps to elect. If there weren't so many of them, and it wasn't so easy now for big political operations to get so many nickel and dime donations, no one would even mention the 'grassroots.' I was happy to contribute to Howard Dean's campaign five, six years ago; I still think he was the real deal. By the time Obama came around I couldn't muster much interest to give; and watching the way he panders to the banksters while the rest of us lose our jobs, our homes, and our what's left of our future, I'm glad I didn't.

Posted by: NealB on April 12, 2009 at 6:51 PM | PERMALINK

Too ignorant to see how pathetic they look with big frowns on their faces as they bend over and dump tea bags...tea bags into lakes, rivers or streams. Taking a picture and showing it too them and they still can't see how stupid they look.

Completely irrational, delusional behavior from the likes of... Beck supporters? If it weren't for the FOX national media coverage this would be completely ignored. But their attempt to make it significant will only come back to haunt them as they continue to be the objects of ridicule.
Complaining about things that happ0ened on Bush's watch which caused the desperate measures being taken by the Obama administration just to try to deal with it and here come the "know nothings" with tea bags in hand and not a plan or a clue on how to deal with what is happening.

btw...the murderer's character in "Changeling" is an imitation of Glenn Beck. I wouldn't let my children anywhere close to that looney tune.

Posted by: bjobotts on April 12, 2009 at 7:03 PM | PERMALINK

Dr. Lemming says "...Remember the 1994 backlash against healthcare reform?..."

That was before the internet became widespread, before grass roots on the web...which are now showing us all the republican lies and keeping us informed. They used the media before but now there are multiple web sources to fact check their nonsense. Once they began bragging about how they were able to manipulate the public...the public became defensive and are not so easily manipulated. These conservatives just don't get why their tactics aren't working anymore and continue to misinform and mislead but are being called out on it. The public is rebelling by staying informed. There's a backlash alright but it's against these yahoos and their antics.

Posted by: bjobotts on April 12, 2009 at 7:17 PM | PERMALINK

The Right Wing Loonies are not so much about Me Me ME as the are about AUTHORITY or their fear about the lack of it. There is a very interesting and enlightening book: "The Authoritarians" by Robert Altemeyer of The University of Manitoba. read it and it will all make sense.
David Chisholm

Posted by: David Chisholm on April 12, 2009 at 10:42 PM | PERMALINK

Top-down will only work if it's led by people who are seen as supporters of the working classes. Watch out for it.

Posted by: catherineD on April 13, 2009 at 12:37 AM | PERMALINK

Join Glenn Beck's campaign for universal national mental health care coverage. Oh, and the Mad Hatter himself invites you to a Thai Tea Party. Welcome to the world of Faux(News) Populism, through the looking-glass.

Posted by: cosanostradamus on April 13, 2009 at 2:35 AM | PERMALINK

Tis funny that the Left believes that it has a corner on grassroots movements.

Many of us were members of SDS and were vocal political activist in the 60-70s. Then came the Jammy Carter days of Stagflation, 18%+ inflation AND interest rates... and rising unemployment.
Your rent, energy and food costs will double in 5 years... small business will be forced to layoff employees because of massive taxation and overhead costs, and many of you will learn the real lessons of economic principals.

Mr. Obama and his BIG MONEY buddies running the Fed and Treasury can not turn on the printing presses without monitizing the debt... which leads to Stagflation:


"For example, central banks can cause inflation by permitting excessive growth of the money supply,[8] and the government can cause stagnation by excessive regulation of goods markets and labor markets;[9] together, these factors can cause stagflation. Both types of explanations are offered in analyses of the global stagflation of the 1970s: it began with a huge rise in oil prices, but then continued as central banks used excessively stimulative monetary policy to counteract the resulting recession, causing a runaway wage-price spiral.[10]"

Then like most of us Conservatives, MANY of you will learn the reality that Mr. Obama and his BIG MONEY appointees are NOT smarter than the laws of Economics, and you will pay dearly!

Posted by: Howard Ino on April 13, 2009 at 10:01 AM | PERMALINK



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