by Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna, Matt Corley, Benjamin Armbruster, Ali Frick, Ryan Powers, and Igor Volsky
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While Americans across the country prepare to pay their taxes today, many right-wing activists plan to spend the day dressed in colonial tri-corner hats as they wave tea bags in the air. Conservatives are calling for these "tea party" protests, allegedly modeled on the Boston Tea Party, to oppose President Obama and to denounce taxes. Though the "tea" in tea party supposedly stands for "Taxed Enough Already," no American household or business will face higher taxes this tax day. In fact, the economic stimulus package signed into law by Obama enacted one of the largest tax cuts ever for middle-class families, making good on Obama's campaign promise to cut taxes for 95 percent of Americans. The first benefits from these cuts arrived in paychecks earlier this month. What's more, a recent Gallup poll found that Americans' views of income taxes are among the most positive since 1956. In his budget proposal, Obama has recommended raising the top income tax brackets back to rates under the Clinton administration and closing corporate loopholes, two issues he campaigned on, in order to strengthen America's economy by funding health care, clean energy, and education reform. Well-heeled corporate lobbyists are helping engineer today's "tea party" protests as an act of opposition to the Obama agenda.
SPONTANEOUS UPRISING?: Although spokesmen of the tea parties have made significant efforts to portray the protests as organic uprisings of like-minded citizens, corporate lobbyists have engineered much of the planning and execution of the events. The corporate front group FreedomWorks, run by lobbyist and former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX), had its staff organize the very first tea party on Feb. 27 in Tampa, FL, following CNBC's Rick Santelli's call for a Boston Tea Party-like upheaval to protest Obama's housing plan. Soon after, FreedomWorks began planning nationwide tea party protests and had their operatives help coordinate logistics, call conservative activists, and provide activists with everything from organizing tips to sign ideas. Americans for Prosperity, a front group run by corporate lobbyist Tim Phillips (a former partner to Ralph Reed), assisted with the effort, drawing upon its extensive field staff to plan events, write press releases, and distribute talking points for people on the ground. Newt Gingrich's American Solutions for Winning the Future -- which is funded by polluters and helped orchestrated the "Drill Here, Drill Now" campaign last summer -- has also signed on to support the protests.
FOX NEWS MEGAPHONE: Both Fox News and Fox Business have run back-to-back promotions explicitly encouraging viewers to attend the tea parties. The Fox broadcasts are in turn being used by the tea party organizers to promote their protests. Promising "fair and balanced" coverage, Fox News hosts such as Glenn Beck, Neil Cavuto, and Sean Hannity are all planning to broadcast live from the events. The segments for the tea parties are replete with enthusiastic endorsements, like the recent announcement of one Fox pundit that it's "time to party like it's 1773!" In their drive to promote the protests, Fox is fueling paranoia by making unsubstantiated, conspiratorial claims that the Obama administration may send "spies" to the tea parties. Another claim Fox asserts to justify its nonstop promotional coverage is that the network provided similar coverage for the Million Man March in 1995. However, Fox News didn't launch until 1996.
A POLITICAL STRATEGY: Congressional Republicans have fully embraced the tea parties as a channel for opposing Obama. House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) is speaking at a tea party in Bakersfield; Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) will be speaking at an Americans for Prosperity tea party in Madison. Over 35 other Republican lawmakers have been invited to speak at other tea party rallies. Republican governors who opposed the economic stimulus package -- such as Rick Perry of Texas and Mark Sanford of South Carolina -- plan to address tea party protests in their own states. Even after being rebuked by organizers of the tea parties, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele has moved the RNC to officially support the protests. If the GOP's effort to brand and own the protests weren't already apparent, Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) introduced legislation formally honoring April 15th as "National Tea Party Day." "It's going to be more directed at Obama," observed Daily Beast reporter Ana Marie Cox on the Republican Party's obsession with the tea parties. "This is very much, I think, part of the midterm strategy."
THE UNIFYING MESSAGE -- OPPOSE OBAMA: Despite steady, high approval ratings for President Obama, the proponents of the tea parties seem intent on demonizing him as the cause of the country's problems. The ostensible anti-tax platform of the tea parties in fact has not resonated with all the participants. The events have drawn various elements of the fringe right-wing movement, with gun rights militias, secessionists, radical anti-immigrant organizations, and neo-Nazi groups currently working to contribute to the organizing effort, bringing with them their own pet issues. Past tea parties have featured gatherings of people inspired to protest Obama over conspiracies related to the President's birth certificate. One of the most prominent Obama birth certificate conspiracy theorists, Alan Keyes, is the keynote speaker of the Washington, D.C. tea party today.