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May 21, 2013 12:38 PM Hitting the Hornet’s Nest

By Ed Kilgore

Even as “investigators” seek without much success so far to find evidence that the IRS scrutiny of applications for 501(c)(4) status represents a vast political conspiracy—one that might have changed the outcome of the 2012 election, no less—the aggrieved Tea Party Movement is taking action, as reflected in this excited account from the Boston Herald’s Antonio Planas:

Tea Party groups plan to picket IRS offices in downtown Boston at noon today, as part of a nationwide wave of protests fueled by rage over the harassment of conservative groups — one of several Obamagate scandals that activists say are breathing new life into their movement and swelling their ranks.
Local Tea Party leaders say they have sent out emails to alert everyone on their mailing lists about a protest today from noon to 1 p.m. at the John F. Kennedy Federal Building.
“The reason we’re there is to focus the public’s attention on the IRS,” said Ted Tripp of the Merrimack Valley Tea Party. “There is something that is going on there that is not good for the public, not good for the country, and has to be cleaned up.”

My first two reactions to this news were (1) Isn’t the Tea Party Movement permanently mobilized against the IRS for confiscating hard-earned income to redistribute it to those people? and (2) Obamagate? Really? Is that what conservative journalists have decided to call Benghazi/IRS/AP? Is that the best they can do?

But Planas’ story-line goes on with this note of vengeance: the Democrat Party’s going to regret messing with the Tea Folk:

The growing controversy over the IRS targeting of Tea Party groups is “like hitting a Tea Party hornet’s nest with a baseball bat,” said Scott Ferson, a Democratic strategist with the Liberty Square Group. “The scandals, the IRS issue, it’s going to agitate the Tea Party population.”
And leaders with local and national Tea Party groups said interest has jumped since the scandals broke less than two weeks ago.
“My phone is ringing off the hook,” Hernandez said. He said he’s received at least 20 calls from people who want to join in the past few days.
“There’s a fire that has been lit. It has rejuvenated the Tea Party,” Hernandez said. “We will come a lot stronger now.”

I would have hoped everybody has figured out by now that the Tea Party Movement is not some news-from-nowhere citizens uprising that’s recruiting previously apolitical Americans in a battle against Washington, but a large, radicalized segment of the conservative “base” of the GOP (none the less Republican for the self-identified independent status of many Tea Folk, who vote Republican very loyally but don’t want to identify with it because they don’t trust it is or will remain sufficiently conservative). As such, it is much less a threat to the Democratic Party than to the GOP—insofar as Republicans have political objectives that don’t always coincide with the truculant and ideologically extreme attitudes of the activist “base.”

If I were a Republican, I wouldn’t be chortling about the return of Tea Folk to the barricades, even if it helps the party try to convert the obscure doings in Cincinnati into some general assault on the American people by IRS “auditors” lusting to break down doors and seize assets. And I wouldn’t be so sure it’s a great idea to “hit the hornet’s nest” by making this “scandal” a 24/7 occupation. If I were really a hard-core-Glenn-Beck-listening conspiracy theorist, I might even suspect the secular-socialists had cooked up this whole thing not only to distract attention from Benghazi!, but to make the GOP go a little crazier when some intelligent strategy is really what it needs.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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