Tea (party) time

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 15, 2010; 8:43 AM

The race is on to define the tea party.

This is harder than it sounds.

The Democrats and the Republicans have conventions, platforms, candidates and officeholders with voting records. The tea party is not really a party, but a loosely organized movement with a revolutionary name.

After initially dismissing the tea types as an unimportant sideshow, the media are drinking deeply from that particular cup, especially with today being Tax Day and all. Suddenly, the tea adherents are being cast as crucial to the 2010 elections, and perhaps the future of American politics.

What is the tea party's goal? "Taking back our country" and handing it over to -- whom? Would its followers be happy with any conservative administration? Are they going to run many of their own candidates? Is that realistic in a system dominated by two parties and big money?

Tea party enthusiasts are driven by a palpable dissatisfaction with the political establishment, taxes and the size of government. They also lean heavily Republican and do not like Barack Obama. But beyond that, with no card-carrying members, because there are no cards to carry, it's difficult to generalize.

There is a danger, it seems to me, of judging the tea party based on its nuttiest figures. Every movement has fringes, people who show up at rallies with obscene signs and shout offensive things.

And that just got more complicated. Now comes word that lefties opposed to the tea party are trying to portray it as crazier than it is -- all the more reason for journalists to be careful.

"Meet Jason Levin, quite possibly the scariest man in the tea party universe," TPM reports.

"An Oregon technology consultant, Levin is the leader of Crash The Tea Party, a plan to take down the tea party from the inside. Levin says he's got a growing cadre of supporters across the country, and conservatives from the message boards to the set of the Sean Hannity's show are getting nervous. 'Our plan is not to shout them down,' Levin told me yesterday, 'but to infiltrate them and push them farther from the mainstream.' . . .

"Levin's group of protesters plan to get in the heads of tea partiers at the Tax Day Tea Parties nationwide Thursday and manipulate them right out of relevance. They'll dress like tea partiers, talk like tea partiers and carry signs like tea partiers. In fact, according to Levin they'll be completely indistinguishable from tea partiers, except for one thing -- they won't be out-crazied by anyone."

Sounds rather deceptive, doesn't it?

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