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Tea Party Flacks Are Drill, Baby, Drill Messengers Too

Exposing how the Tea Party evolved out of the pro-offshore drilling astroturf movement in 2008, and the Koch billionaires' role in backing it.

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It's important to understand just how close the Tea Party campaign is tied to the campaign pushing for unlimited offshore drilling, because the media has consistently misunderstood and misrepresented the Tea Party movement at every step of the way, treating the Tea Party like a legitimate political movement, rather than what it really is: a well-funded and highly-manipulative PR campaign, paid for and led by right-wing billionaires looking to protect their riches from government regulators and taxes. The Tea Party only exists as long as the Kochs need it to run; once the billionaires' needs change, they'll close the account out and get onto other business, dumping all the suckers who volunteered their time and Ayn Rand-inspired placards until they're needed again sometime in the future.

To understand how this works, let's go back again to the summer of 2008, the last time there were still restrictions on offshore oil drilling in America. How did it happen that we lifted all offshore drilling restrictions less than two years ago? Strange to believe now, but two summers ago, drilling became the "wedge issue" for the presidential campaign, the way gay marriage was in 2004. In August 2008, for reasons unclear at the time, nothing got the Republican base more quickly worked up for a fight than the fight to open up all of America's coasts and waters to all the drilling that Big Oil wanted.

Before it turned Tea Party, the pro-offshore drilling campaign was led by the disgraced Newt Gingrich, via his billionaire-sponsored foundation, American Solutions. It was a pretty typical lobbying effort until August 1, when the Republicans seemed to go off the handle, and a bunch of DC Beltway foundation trolls took to the streets threatening tea party revolt. 

By mid-August 2008, the  Wall Street Journal asked, "Why Does Offshore Drilling Dominate the Debate?":   

How on earth, in the middle of a war and an economic slowdown, did a handful of offshore oil rigs come to be the wedge issue of American politics?  

And make no mistake--new oil drilling is  the wedge. Republicans have shown  80-90% support for any drilling proposal; Democrats are equally opposed.  Bob Herbert in the NYT compares drilling's wool-over-the-eyes allure to the persistent belief in Iraqi involvement in Sept. 11. Offshore drilling has  resuscitated [sic] Newt Gingrich, and  ruined Nancy Pelosi's summer. It made Sen. Barack Obama, the "agent of change," change his mind. And it derailed the Straight Talk Express. 

Suddenly, the entire election hinged on offshore drilling, and the Democrats got it in their heads that if they didn't compromise, they'd lose the 2008 election. It must have seemed strange to them -- the Republicans dragged America into two military defeats back-to-back, and left the economy destroyed on a scale not seen in almost a century. But the Democrats were scared as they usually are, and by the end of September, both the House and Senate voted to lift the ban on offshore drilling for gas and oil. 

The last part of the campaign happened so fast, it seemed plausibly spontaneous and grassroots. Before Odom and the Twitter mobs, the push for offshore drilling was much more traditional: several months of Newt Gingrich's backroom efforts and mailers and ads pushing for offshore oil drilling. And then came the surprise: On August 1, 2008, Republicans staged a publicity stunt to take over the floor of the House just a few hours after lawmakers had voted to adjourn for their five-week summer break. The Republicans said they were protesting Speaker Pelosi's decision to go home without voting on offshore drilling.

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