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Internal disputes roil Tea Party convention

Tea Party activists gather in New Mexico April, 2009
It was supposed to be a gathering of true believers, an occasion to celebrate the Tea Party movement's grassroots victories. And activists have had victories -- fanning opposition to President Obama's healthcare reform package in those angry tea party town halls last summer, along with last week's come-from-behind U.S. Senate victory for Republican Scott Brown in Massachusetts that denied Democrats their 60-vote majority.

Convention organizers were thrilled when they got a star headliner -- former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin -- to keynote the Tea Party convention planned for Nashville next month.

But now rifts within the movement are threatening to derail the convention, organized by Tea Party Nation. The conflict: a convention that seeks to maximize the Tea Party's political clout by developing a mainstream organization and an audience of angry voters dedicated to grassroots actions and suspicious of top-down management.

“The idea that there’s one person, one event, that can somehow be the Tea Party spokesperson is inaccurate and counter to the movement of free-thinking individuals that want less government intervention,” says John O’Hara, author of “A New American Tea Party.” “This top-down model is what’s being rejected in politics, and that you’d adopt that for your movement is bizarre.”

Some have balked at the price tag for the convention -- $549 per ticket and a $9.95 fee, plus hotel and airfare -- as out of touch with the lifestyle of the average tea partier. Others have raised eyebrows at Palin's reported $100,000 speaking fee.

And some have withdrawn from the convention altogether. Philip Glass was supposed to lead workshops on his strategy as national director of the National Precinct Alliance, which seeks to influence Republican Party politics by putting conservatives in local and state offices. But now he's walking.

“We are very concerned about the appearance of TPN profiteering and exploitation of the grassroots movement,” he said in a statement Sunday. “We were under the impression that TPN was a nonprofit organization like NPA, interested only in uniting and educating Tea Party activists on how to make a real difference in the political arena.”

Sherry Phillips, who runs TPN with her husband, Judson, told the New York Times that “our budget on this convention is very tight" and that "if there is any profit, the money will go toward furthering the cause of conservatism.”

As former Republican Rep. Joe Scarborough of Florida wrote in Newsweek, “At the very moment the tea party has proved itself as an undeniable political force that must be taken seriously, it is at risk of tearing itself apart. “Riven with internal conflicts and lacking a coherent structure, the tea party's biggest challenge may be trying to deal with its own success."

So severe is the rift among activists that some are even predicting a protest outside the convention site by disaffected members of the movement. Angry meets angrier.

-- Johanna Neuman

Photo: Tea partiers protest in Las Cruces, N.M., last April. Credit: Norm Dettlaff / Las Cruces Sun-News

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Comments () | Archives (4)

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did you not see the news release that Judicial Watch is now a sponsor of the Tea Party Convention, coming on board after all this crap about the Convention is being spread like manure by the liberals and what I think are jealous conservatives who wanted to control the Tea Party themselves.
Do you really think Judicial Watch, an organization that digs for corruption in both parties, would be a sponsor if they had not checked it out before they did this?
Sarah Palin will come out of the Tea Party Convention stronger and more influential in national politics than she is now.
Too bad, liberal dolts.

First; It should be of no surprise that this movement, being filled with people with common sense who can spot corruption, will resist the questionable motives within the movement. It does not mean that we are divided in purpose, only that we have an inborn honor to follow true leaders. I am not in any way accusing TPN of these motives, only that they and any other group be vigilant in their honesty and openness.
Secondly; The word ‘angry’ keeps getting thrown around so freely by the media and liberal/progressive party (same thing?), that the real intentions of the ‘Tea Party movement’ is being clouded by fear and hatred. We are only talking loudly to make our voices heard and if our legislators shirk their sworn duty to represent the constituency, we will get upset at them. Remember this is only our righteous indignation towards a tainted government, you really do not want to see ANGRY.

Given that the Tea Partiers are all about feisty individualism, independence, and "you can't tell me what to do", it's no big surprise to find that they can't work together collectively to achieve anything. Indeed, the very words "collective action" are equated to socialism, communism, fascism, tyranny, etc. in their public pronouncements.

How can people who reflexively fear influential groups ever create one of their own?

@James: Hey man! We have the first 2 comments here, just like at http://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/the-staggers/2010/01/tea-party-palin-convention#reader-comments! Where else did you post your drivel?

Look it seems that the Tea Party is the Al qaeda of political party, a bunch of loosely affiliated individuals dedicated to bringing down this administration. Furthermore, judging from the price of a ticket one must admit that it is no real grassroots movement, but rather a hijacked movement. I saw this article that demonstrates why this movement will fail to accomplish its goals, I think if you are a tea partier you should read:


http://keironjackman.wordpress.com/2010/01/18/tea-party-democrats-getting-served/



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About the Columnist
A veteran foreign and national correspondent, Andrew Malcolm has served on the L.A. Times Editorial Board and was a Pulitzer finalist in 2004. He is the author of 10 nonfiction books and father of four. Read more.
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