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The Tea Party Is Dangerous: Dispelling 7 Myths That Help Us Avoid Reality About the New Right-Wing Politics

It may be fashionable to dismiss the Tea Party and its radical, right-wing pals, but we do so at our peril.

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Blogger Stephen Markley exemplifies a common strain of thought that this means that the Tea Party isn't a real movement, but that's just a matter of semantics. Whatever you want to call it, it does have real power and, at the ground level, comprises real people.

FreedomWorks and Americans For Prosperity organized the opposition to disrupt town-hall meetings devoted to the bill called by members of Congress in their districts, with FreedomWorks' Bob McGuffie actually offering a "how-to" kit on his Web site (PDF), Right Principles. Fox News hammered away, repeating lies about "death panels" for the elderly and abortion coverage in the bill. (At an Americans For Prosperity event AlterNet covered last August, personalities from either Fox News or the Wall Street Journal accounted for one-third of the 15 speakers on the roster for the conference plenary.) The organized Tea Party opposition helped to kill the public option, and created the pressures that yielded the current bill's sweet deals for insurance companies.

Columnist Cynthia Tucker would have you believe that the amplification by right-wing media of the contrived town-hall confrontations -- as well as subsequent Tea Party happenings -- render them to be so much hooey. "[I]ts loud, publicity-oriented antics draw news media attention, giving it more an appearance of clout than actual influence," writes Tucker

But health care reform never was the main event for these groups; it was simply the best issue on hand at the time to organize around. Because health care is so personal, it stirs the emotions, especially of those whose distrust of government and the president run so deep. The real deal for the astroturfers is regulation of any kind -- particularly of the energy industry, but including the financial system, telecommunications and the Internet.

Both FreedomWorks and Americans For Prosperity stem from a now-defunct group, Citizens for a Sound Economy, founded by David Koch, heir to the fortune of Koch Industries, the nation's largest, privately held oil and gas company. Today, Koch chairs the board of the Americans for Prosperity Foundation. While FreedomWorks claims that it receives no Koch money, it promotes Koch's agenda.

The success of FreedomWorks, AFP and Fox News in mobilizing the Tea Party movement has brought an army of political operatives and lobbyists to the gates, and given rise to new entities, such as the Tea Party Express, an organization born of the Our Country Deserves Better PAC chaired by Republican operative Howard Kaloogian, who spearheaded the recall of Democratic Gov. Grey Davis in California. Taken together, I think of these entities as "Tea Party Inc.," distinct from the grassroots right-wing movement they often successfully mobilize.

For a whole class of K Street lobbyists, political operatives and dirty tricksters, the Tea Party movement has become big business, if this anonymous account, said to be written by a Republican political consultant, in this month's Playboy is to be believed. Whether or not the author inflates his own importance and that of the Tea Party PAC he says he was hired to advise, there is truth in the author's claims of co-option of the movement by the professional class of political manipulators. But that doesn't make the Tea Party movement any less dangerous.

3. The Tea Party movement cannot win general elections.

Well, the jury's still out on that one. In the race for Nevada's U.S. Senate seat, GOP candidate and Tea Party victor Sharron Angle is giving Harry Reid a run for his money, polling three points ahead of the Senate majority leader, according to the latest Mason-Dixon poll, which was conducted in early June. In Kentucky's Senate race, the most recent SurveyUSA poll shows Rand Paul running ahead of Democrat Jack Conway.