The problem with photoblogging a live event, is that you don’t have time to take pictures, listen to the speeches, talk to people and provide granular or meta-analysis in real time. When they eventually take blogging seriously in J-school, maybe it’ll be a marketable skill. But the problem with photoblogging a Tea Party, in particular, is that a full day later your normal reserves of snark are depleted. I don’t have enough left in the tank to spread between these two reactions to my initial post:
O rly? Let’s see if this parallel works:
There was a now-defunct website on tumblr called Boner Party. It basically objectified hot women. When feminists cried foul, the response was “Hey, it’s satire!” It would then return to … objectifying hot women. I loved it. The regularly scheduled programing was a guilty pleasure, but the tactic was inspired.
“You just don’t ‘get’ it.” (Genius!)“You can’t see the subtext because you have an agenda.“
Yet any casual observer would (correctly) infer that Boner Party was all about hot women. It wasn’t a blog about the great personalities of average-looking girls. It’s the same thing with astroturfing and the teabaggers.
If you lay down a piece of AstroTurf at a political rally, and then use it as an ironic symbol to reclaim “grass-roots” legitimacy, then you DAMNwell better not have monied interests stepping on that AstroTurf. If you do, then you’re just validating the original criticism. You’re showing up as advertised. You’re coming full circle and there’s nothing ironic about that. It’s just stupid.
So who was one of the first speakers on that little green swath of artificial grass? See that guy in the white shirt and the black slacks in front of the yellow flag?
He was extremely well-received by the crowd and here’s why: He offered — I swear to God — $1500 checks to ANY group or organization who would advance Tea Party interests. There was some requirement about “signing a petition.” I’m not making this up. I was right there in front when he said it. He was wearing a red tie.
There was no move to shush him or rush him off the stage. There was no embarrassment from the organizers. He was lustily cheered. And I can totally see why! That’s a lot of money. Only really rich people have that kind of cash to blow on politics. I repeat: One thousand, five hundred dollars. Offering $1500 checks to hundreds of people is a lot of things, but it isn’t freaking populist. That’s well over a month’s salary for a person earning minimum wage. My cost of living is among the highest in the nation, and even I was thinking of which bills I could pay off.
So I was understandably confused. I asked several people around me what was going on. Was the Tea Party in favor of astroturfing? Do you think this guy is a salt-of-the-earth joe, ready to help you walk precincts and put up posters? It was clear no one in my immediate vicinity A) knew what astroturfing was (my original criticism) or B) why it was objectionable. By far the most common response was “This is just something we do at every Tea Party.” The significance was lost; it had passed into ritual.
So saying this is a “nuanced riposte” is ridiculous. When I watch a wealthy man metaphorically dangle his bank account in front of the People of WalMart, I know what I’m seeing. And when it becomes clear that others around me don’t, it’s appropriate to cite ignorance.
Normal, middle-class American don’t use that kind of money as a carrot to advance their political interests. George Soros is worth billions and he supports drug legalization. If he offered me a $1500 check at a rally, I’d cheer my ass off. But I wouldn’t place him on some AstroTurf and then lecture my political opponents on how they’re “missing the point.” Nancy Pelosi and the rest of us effete, urbane leftists have a cynical word for that kind of political action. It ain’t “grass-roots organizing.”
You can contend he was only a “small” businessman (with thousands to disperse during a massive recession) and that it’s not astroturf unless it’s blatantly deceitful or massively corporate. That’s a legitimate argument. But the attendees genuinely didn’t grasp the significance of the term, and the organizers genuinely didn’t see why the motives of an affluent white guy during Tax Day aren’t especially credible to the rest of us. Rich Uncle Pennybags isn’t going to be working the phonebanks or driving old folks to the polls during Election Day. He’s going to pay the crowd to do it for him.
Chrissakes, one and a half grand? For that dough, I’D advance tea party interests. That was almost the size of my Federal tax return.
Oh … wait.