The of tea-party enthusiasm on the American right has provoked a fairly typical reaction from the organized American left. It's a fake. It involves tea bags and (a) Dick Armey. It's got the consistency of astroturf, not natural grass. The right, meanwhile, has responded ferociously to the charges that the parties were organized au naturelle by closing ranks, claiming themselves the inheritors of a intellectual tradition beginning with Rosseau through Thomas Pain through Hayek. The right looks more ridiculous than the left at this point, if only because conservatives don't have much muscle memory when it comes to protesting en masse. But the tea parties really are something. Their origins -- organic, programmatic, accidental or otherwise -- don't matter much anymore. If -- and we'll have to see the numbers at the end of the day -- 100,000 Americans show up to protest their taxes, the onus to dismiss them as a nascent political force shifts to the Democrats. There's no evidence that official Republican strategists connected with the Republican National Committee, John Boehner's office or the NRSC had the insight to conceive of these events, much less to try and bigfoot the organizers.
There's plenty of evidence that a bunch of hanger-on Republican interest groups, always looking to prove their relevance and hip factor to donors and activists, decided to lend their names and resources to the parties, multiplying their "organic" effect. FreedomWorks is a classic astroturfing shop. But I also think that we're too obsessed with the distinction between the top and the bottom of a blade of grass. At some point, critical mass is reached and astroturf campaigns can work -- they can catalyze genuine anger and channel it into meaningful political participation. In the age of hyperconnectivity, just what would an organic grassroots movement look like, anyway? Are people who've organized on behalf of causes before forbidden from joining? Can the movement not accept help and money from outside players?
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