"What happened to the country that loved the underdog and stood up for the little guy?"
-Glenn Beck, "We Surround Them", 3/12/2009
The Tea Party mythology - that it is a grassroots, "insurgent" movement bent on overthrowing the "establishment" - has taken root in the corporate and even independent liberal media, largely because of the Herculean efforts by conservative think tanks, media sources, and big corporate funding (as I discussed in the last essay in this series, Lisbeth Salander: The Dark Metal Sarah Palin). The Tea Party PR fairy tale is so pervasive that it has become a commonplace, and, thus, the normal, "factual" way in which the media covers the election, as we see in the McClatchy newspapers' report, "Tea Party, Palin put GOP establishment on ropes in Florida, Alaska". The headline - which introduces an "objective" news report - spreads this conservative manufactured myth, that the Tea Party is separate from the Washington establishment, that it is in fact "fighting" the beltway. The headline was published across its network of 31 papers nationwide, even growing into the independent media – here at Truthout itself.
While claiming to fight on behalf of the "little guy," who is angrier than ever about the state of affairs today according to a recent Pew poll the Tea Party leadership - which is ideologically and financially connected to the Republican establishment and billionaire activists - sees the opportunity to turn the rage at government into a love for big business (much to the intense criticism of some real grassroots Tea Partiers). As a result, the Tea Party movement, whether or not the on-the-ground activists are aware of this, appears to be acting as a set of sacrificial pawns on behalf of the corporate elite - the Plutocracy - at the expense of its own middle class interest.
The Tea Party candidates, their leadership, and their corporate sponsors are not anti-establishment. Let's no longer use this fabricated fable - especially those of us working in the independent media – and let's no longer act as pack mules for think tank propaganda.
There is an important distinction between the on-the-ground Tea Party activists and the Tea Party leadership. The Tea Party itself is not completely Astroturf (or a fake grassroots movement). No doubt the rage that members in the Tea Party feel is authentic. Further, as New Yorker reporter Ben McGrath points out in an insightful profile on the Tea Party, it isn't fair to say that the activists are "mere tools of right-wing media figures like Glenn Beck." Rather, McGrath shows us a portrait of real members of the party in protest, with real rage at the state of the world and the country. "The blogosphere," McGrath writes, "can make trained foot soldiers of us all, with or without corporate funding." (And, as you'll read in the conclusion, some Tea Partiers are actively fighting against corporate control.)
And while there may be grassroots members of the Tea Party, the Republican establishment and major corporations, deliberately hidden from scrutiny behind layers of nonprofits and think tanks, have provided it extensive support and sponsorship. The April 2009 Tea Party protests were subsidized in part by Freedom Works, which former Texas Republican Dick Armey chairs. Of Freedom Works, former president George W. Bush said, "They have been doing a great job all over the country of educating people" about basic Republican philosophy: "Lower Taxes, Less Government, More Freedom."
FreedomWorks appears not only plugged into the mainstream Republican Party, but also Fox News (whose parent company, News Corporation, donated one million dollars to the Republican Governor's Races). Fox commentator Beck, an architect of the Tea Party movement, promotes an activist kit on the FreedomWorks website. Beck has had Armey on his program, which FreedomWorks in turn posted on YouTube. FreedomWorks also sponsored a segment on his Fox News radio program, and Beck explains their collaboration – that they have the "organizational power" to help the Tea Party in its objectives. "FreedomWorks had the resources to break the Tea Parties big," writes Michael Brendan Dougherty of The American Conservative "[T]he group commands a budget in the $8 million range and claims 902,000 members."
And to get big, Armey's organization has received financial support from big business. FreedomWorks received nearly $3,000,000 from the Sarah Scaife Foundation, which, according to Media Matters, "is financed by the Mellon industrial, oil, and banking fortune," and which donates major money to many conservative causes and think tanks. (See SourceWatch for more details.) Further, Steve Forbes - of the "nation's leading business magazine" Forbes, famous for its list of the richest companies and people in the world - is on the board of directors. (Not surprisingly, Forbes was also a Ronald Reagan appointee, and is now chair of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation.)
And speaking of Forbes, Koch Industries, the magazine's second wealthiest private company in America, has helped fund the Tea Party, as Jane Mayer shows us in her recent must- read New Yorker profile of the billionaire Koch brothers ("Covert Operations: The billionaire brothers who are waging a war against Obama"). As Mayer reports, the Koch brothers have used their 35 billion dollar fortune to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into constructing an invisible hard-right propaganda apparatus, consisting of pro-business think tanks that manufacture pro-business ideas and strategies, and PR propaganda machinery to spread these messages pervasively and persuasively. One of these projects is the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, which funded a July 4 summit titled "Texas Defending the American Dream." This summit, Mayer explains, served as a tool for promoting the "grassroots" Tea Party movement:
Five hundred people attended the summit, which served, in part, as a training session for Tea Party activists in Texas. An advertisement cast the event as a populist uprising against vested corporate power. "Today, the voices of average Americans are being drowned out by lobbyists and special interests," it said. "But you can do something about it." The pitch made no mention of its corporate funders. The White House has expressed frustration that such sponsors have largely eluded public notice. David Axelrod, Obama's senior adviser, said, "What they don't say is that, in part, this is a grassroots citizens' movement brought to you by a bunch of oil billionaires."
Even if the Tea Party is an authentic, grassroots democratic movement, even if its adherents didn't receive corporate funds, even if its members purport to hate corporations, its ends ultimately serve corporate interests - the billionaires' interests. Why else would big oil, Forbes, and the Koch Brothers help seed and cultivate its grassroots?
What good business would invest in a project they don't expect a return on?