Frank Rich of the New York Times believes the true Tea Party populists are being exploited by the Republican Party, among others. In a column titled “The Great Tea Party Rip-off,” Rich claims Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele and new Fox contributor Sarah Palin are two of the biggest culprits. While they like to claim being devoted tea partiers, Rich concludes they are more interested in their own personal ambition — and padding their bank accounts — than advancing the Tea Party agenda.
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.
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.
Do local tea partiers agree or disagree with Rich’s assessment?