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Tea Party most effective at bottom-up, leaderless level

Former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore works on his Tea Party Convention speech.
Former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore works on his Tea Party Convention speech.
AP Photo/Ed Reinke

So far, the National Tea Party Convention in Nashville looks like a major letdown. At least, that's how the mainstream media wants to paint it.

According to MSNBC anchor David Schuster, the event "is full of workshops, meetings, funny outfits and speeches."

On the surface, the convention does look like a recipe for disaster. Some 600 people showed up for the three-day confab, and the price ($549, not including meals and lodging) put off many of the average-Joe voters. There were shouts that one organization, Tea Party Nation, stood to make a tidy profit off voter anger, and Sarah Palin earned $100,000 to deliver a keynote address. Congresswoman Michelle Bachman (R-MN), one of the leading lights of the tea party movement, pulled out. Ditto with Marsha Blackburn (R-TN). The Liberty Alliance felt cut out of the action.

Meanwhile, the Republican Party, searching for new life after its poor 2008 showing, appears hungry to tap some of the energy generated by the anti-big-government tea partiers and to get in the front of the parade.

Which sounds good, but most of the Tea Party movement's effectiveness lies in its grassroots appeal. It's a true bottom-up effort, and it's not really an organization. This leaderless aspect makes the movement prone to rookie mistakes, but more than makes up for that in sheer energy. It's strength in numbers in its purest form.

Efforts to "lead" this non-organization, to make it a top-down effort, to populate it with established insiders -- OK, use the word that immediately comes to mind, to co-opt it -- may create the illusion of viability, but will do little more than dilute that strong tea.

But then, that's exactly what the Washington insiders and established political leaders want. 

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