Sunday, January 17, 2010
The Great Tea Party Rip-Off
Both Steele and Palin claim to be devotees of the tea party movement. “I’m a tea partier, I’m a town-haller, I’m a grass-roots-er” is how Steele put it in a recent radio interview, wet-kissing a market he hopes will buy his book. Palin has far more grandiose ambitions. She recently signed on as a speaker for the first Tea Party Convention, scheduled next month in Nashville, even though she had turned down a speaking invitation from the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, the traditional meet-and-greet for the right. The conservative conference doesn’t pay. The Tea Party Convention does. A blogger at Nashville Scene reported that Palin’s price for the event was $120,000.
The entire Tea Party Convention is a profit-seeking affair charging $560 a ticket plus the cost of a room at the Opryland Hotel.
Among the convention’s eight listed sponsors is Tea Party Emporium, which gives as its contact address 444 Madison Avenue in New York, also home to the high-fashion brand Burberry. This emporium’s Web site offers a bejeweled tea bag at $89.99 for those furious at “a government hell bent on the largest redistribution of wealth in history.” This is almost as shameless as Glenn Beck, whose own tea party profiteering has included hawking gold coins merchandised by a sponsor of his radio show.
Last week a prominent right-wing blogger, Erick Erickson of RedState.com, finally figured out that the Tea Party Convention “smells scammy,” likening it to one of those Nigerian e-mails promising untold millions.
Such rumbling about the movement’s being co-opted by hucksters may explain why Palin used her first paid appearance at Fox last Tuesday to tell Bill O’Reilly that she would recycle her own tea party profits in political contributions. But Erickson had it right: the tea party movement is being exploited and not just by marketers, lobbyists, political consultants and corporate interests but by the Republican Party, as exemplified by Palin and Steele, its most prominent leaders.
Tea partiers hate the G.O.P. establishment and its Wall Street allies, starting with the Bushies who created TARP, almost as much as they do Obama and his Wall Street pals. When Steele and Palin pay lip service to the movement, they are happy to glom on to its anti-tax, anti-Obama, anti-government, anti-big-bank vitriol. But they don’t call for any actual action against the bailed-out perpetrators of the financial crisis. They’d never ask for investments to put ordinary Americans back to work. They have no policies to forestall foreclosures or protect health insurance for the tea partiers who’ve been shafted by hard times. Their only economic principle beside tax cuts is vilification of the stimulus that did save countless jobs for firefighters, police officers and teachers at the state and local level.
Hustlers like Steele and Palin take the money and run. All their followers get in exchange is a lousy tea party T-shirt, or a ghost-written self-promotional book, or a tepid racial sideshow far beneath the incendiary standards which has driven away nearly every black American except Steele for the past 40 years.
The true prime mover in this story was Michael Steele, the chairman of the Republican Party and by far the loudest and most prominent Beltway figure demanding that Reid resign as Senate majority leader as punishment for his “racism.”
Steele is widely regarded as a clown by observers of all political persuasions, had to throw a bone after criticizing the fanatical extreme right of the Republican Party. His actions in this incident offer some hilarious and instructive insights into what’s going on in the Republican hierarchy right now as it tries to cope not just with our first African-American president but with a restive base embracing right-wing tea-party populism that loathes the establishment in both parties. Although Steele is black and perhaps the most enthusiastic player of the race card in American politics today, race was a red herring in his Reid vendetta. It threw most everyone off the scent of his real motivation, which had nothing to do with black versus white but everything to do with green, as in money.
A profligate spender, Steele had inaugurated his arrival as party chairman by devoting nearly $20,000 to redecorate his office because he found it “way too male” for his sensitive tastes. In the weeks just before “Game Change” emerged, Steele was in more hot water. Over the holidays, G.O.P. elders were shocked to learn that their front man had a side career as a motivational public speaker at up to $20,000 a gig. The party treasury, which contained $22.8 million upon Steele’s arrival at the end of January 2009, was down to $8.7 million by late November, with 2010 campaign expenditures rapidly arriving. “He needs to raise money for the party, not his wallet,” one Republican leader griped to Politico.
Then, just after New Year, Steele published an unexpected book of his own, “Right Now.” He hadn’t told his employers that the book was in the works, and, to add further insult, he attacks unnamed party leaders in its pages for forsaking conservative principles. Since it hit the stores, Steele has pursued a book tour for fun and personal profit, all the while daring his G.O.P. critics to bring it on. “If you don’t want me in the job, fire me,” he taunted them. “But until then, shut up. Get with the program, or get out of the way.”
Fire him? Steele knows better than anyone that his party can’t afford what Clarence Thomas might call a “high-tech lynching” of the only visible black guy it has in even a second-tier office. Steele has said that white Republicans are “scared” of him.
Steel is very good at playing head games with their racial paranoia and insecurities, whether he’s publicly professing “slum love” for the Indian-American Louisiana governor, Bobby Jindal, or starting a blog on the R.N.C. site titled “What Up?,” or announcing that he would use “fried chicken and potato salad” to recruit minority voters.
On Jan. 9 The Washington Post ran a front-page article headlined “Frustrations With Steele Leaving G.O.P. in a Bind,” reporting, among other embarrassments, that the party had spent $90 million during Steele’s brief reign while raising just $84 million. Enter “Game Change,” right in the nick of time for Steele to pull off his own cunning game change. On Jan. 10 he stormed “Fox News Sunday” and “Meet the Press” to demand Reid’s head. There has been hardly a mention of Steele’s sins since. He can laugh all the way to the bank.