Sarah Palin and the Tea Party Trap

Posted on January 30, 2010

To-date, Sarah Palin’s sense of time and place has been near perfection but her participation as a paid keynote speaker in the The National Tea Party convention next week (February 4-6) may be her first misstep.

Organized by Tea Party Nation this will be the group’s  first convention. A for-profit group started by a husband and wife team, many are miffed and angry at the $550 cost of a ticket to attend and much more to eat and sleep in Nashville.  But this is only the beginning of the controversy surrounding this event – controversy that may take too much of Palin’s time and energy to overcome.

Hurdle one for Palin coming out of this conference: Maintaining her image as a grass-roots politician – in touch with the average citizen.  But controversy over her alleged $100,000 fee and over the management of the convention has clouded matters for her and could tarnish her image if not conrolled.

Palin must remember that Barack Obama’s machine, Organizing for Obama, gave the public perception that he primarily associated with and gathered the funding most critical to his campaign from average citizens and that he represented them above the rich and special interest groups.  While Obama claims OFO and its successor OFA is a grass-roots organization, nothing could be further from the truth.  It is a top down organization AND it was heavily funded by large donations.

The Tea Party movement, albeit factious, is truly a grass roots movement.  Much of the controversy surrounding this event could be quashed were the organizers to make clear where the monies will go beyond Sarah’s fee to speak.  She will be participating in the campaigns of others and it might be an issue that will come up to bite her at an inopportune time.

Hurdle two for Palin: Getting involved in the morass and confusion that surrounds the full spectrum of the tea party movement. It is time-consuming and difficult for we “civilians” to trace the origins of the different factions in order to clear up the confusion.  You will find the words “tea party” in most of their names. With this amount of confusion, could her constituents have misconceptions about her positions if they erroneously conclude that she is connecting herself with, say, the Tea Party Express (an organization quite different that organizing the National Tea Party Convention)? The Tea Party Express is not part of Tea Party Nation.

Hurdle three for Palin: Other major players scheduled for key roles at the convention have canceled:

Citing concerns about possibly campaign finance violations, Rep. Marsha Blackburn announced this morning that she has withdrawn from participating in next week’s Tea Party Nation Convention in Nashville.

The Brentwood Republican said she was told by the House ethics committee not to participate in the
event because of the uncertainty over how proceeds from the convention might be used.

Blackburn was scheduled to be a featured speaker and to introduce keynote speaker former Alaska governor and GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.

Blackburn said in a statement that she had contacted organizer Judson Phillips and told him “frankly that the Tea Party Nation’s for-profit status has put many of his speakers in an awkward position.”

Minn. Rep. Michele Bachmann has also pulled out of the convention citing the same reasons as Blackburn. [Tennessean]

But Sarah Palin confirmed this week that she still plans to attend and to speak at the National Tea Party Convention. She feels it is important to get the message about the movement out there.

She also feels strongly that the Tea Party groups and the Republican Party should gather under the same tent.

“They need to merge,” she said. “Definitely, they need to merge. I think those who are wanting the divisions and the divisiveness and the controversy — those are the ones who don’t believe in the message. And they’re the ones, I think, stirring it up. We need to ignore that and we need to forge ahead with a cohesive message. It’s a common sense message. It, again, is, Government, limit yourself so that the private sector, our families, free individuals can grow and thrive and prosper and enjoy America’s freedom!” [Huffington Post]

But as mentioned above, there are many theories of how to proceed.

In the Tea Party movement, some want to change the Republican Party and others want to form a third party. But that’s a dream that has eluded many populist activists across the political spectrum for generations. And the Tea Party is just beginning to grapple with the challenge. [NPR]


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