By Mary Kate Cary, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
The tea party movement is not being very well served by the "Tea Party Convention" being held in Nashville this weekend, for a number of reasons. First, the tea partiers I know who gathered last summer barely had enough money to pay for a microphone and a sound system, much less afford tickets to a fancy hotel with a lobster-and-steak dinner. But they cared deeply about where our country is heading, the tax-and-spend massive federal budget, and the growing nanny state, and so they made home-made signs and stood on the steps of their State Capitol. I think the organizers of this expensive convention misjudged the audience.
Second, the organizers invited the wrong people to speak. The public relations disaster that the opening-night speaker, former Congressman Tom Tancredo, has created is exhibit #1. Here's ABC News's account of what he said. Unbelievable on a number of levels, and he's the last thing the movement needs. One of his messages (aside from the race-baiting) was that people, specifically voters, are stupid. Wrong. The whole premise of the tea party movement is that people are definitely not stupid. Charles Krauthammer wrote a brilliant column today on this (my recommendation for your must-read pile during this weekend's snowstorm.)
Third, the organizers should never have paid Sarah Palin a reported $100,000 in speakers fees--if they'd been smart they'd have convinced her to speak for free, building her brand in front of her target market. She can still make plenty of money on the speakers circuit with trade associations and big conventions. The organizers should have known that if they held a "tea party convention" and asked Sarah Palin to speak for free, she'd have no choice but to do so: she'd never want to be seen as snubbing her peeps after that book tour. Instead, she's seen as greedy--a narrative begun when she quit the governor's office for a book deal and continued with this. She wants to look like a visionary, but she's beginning to look more and more like a sell-out.
I can't help but think that the tea party movement would have been better off without this crazy event. I know they don't have an organizational structure or even a few good leaders, but that will come. Right now they have more power as a diffuse, grassroots movement that is standing up to a massive expansion of our government. That's bigger than any panel discussion in a hotel ballroom.