Tuesday, February 16, 2010


As Right Wing Watch notes today, The New York Times is reporting this about a significant segment of the tea party movement...

Tea Party gatherings are full of people who say they would do away with the Federal Reserve, the federal income tax and countless agencies, not to mention bailouts and stimulus packages. Nor is it unusual to hear calls to eliminate Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.... Some of the prescriptions they are debating -- secession, tax boycotts, states "nullifying" federal laws, forming citizen militias -- are outside the mainstream, too.

...at a time when this is taking place:

About 50 leaders of the grass-roots "tea party" movement will meet in Washington on Tuesday with Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele and other top GOP operatives to discuss campaign strategies and conservative principles....

Now, you'd think this might cause a bit of an optics problem for the GOP, and for the right in general.

But I'm not so sure. I look at the recent history of the anti-abortion movement, and it seems to me that having a good-zealot/bad-zealot strategy has been highly effective. Oh, sure, abortion is still legal and the White House and Congress are run by the (nominally) pro-choice party. But abortion rights are in a slow but inexorable retreat. What's more, the actions of of the "bad zealots" -- shooting abortion providers and whatnot -- are now treated by conventional-wisdom purveyors as stuff done by the marginal bad people, who are not to be confused with the fine, virtuous, respectable anti-choice folks in the C.W. purveyors' Rolodexes. How does that work out for the movement? Well, the shooting of George Tiller didn't exactly slow down Bart Stupak, did it?

Fox and the GOP are hard at work nurturing what they hope we'll come to see as the mainstream of the tea party movement -- just a bunch of nice patriots who simply want Republicans to act more like true conservatives. To someone who takes a close look, it might not be easy to tell where the "good zealots" and and the gun-toting, conspiracy-mongering "bad zealots" begin -- but the hope is that casual observers (and the mainstream media) will accept the argument that any ugliness arising from the movement is from the discredited, unrepresentative fringe-dwellers.

And meanwhile, in the real world, some of the passion of those fringe-dwellers will be of use to the GOP, even as the GOP inoculates itself against any sense of association with them.

And yes, this would work just the opposite way, with the non-crazies always being forced to answer for the crazies, if this were a left-leaning movement. But, well, it isn't, so the rules are different.

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