The myth of the inexperienced tea partiers

Overall, however, it’s hard to take imputations of inexperience too seriously. And let’s not even get into the major figures in the Tea Party movement, many of whom have ties to the mainstream GOP apparatus. Jon Stewart skewered Dick Armey, the former House majority leader, when he went on The Daily Show to promote his new book, Give Us Liberty: A Tea Party Manifesto. Stewart pointed out that it was hard for Armey—whose FreedomWorks is one of the most influential Tea Party groups—to claim he’s anti-establishment considering that he led the Republican Party’s Congressional delegation. And the Times profiled Sal Russo, a long-time GOP fundraiser who has given hundreds of thousands to Tea Party candidates. Piles of cash have also come from the Koch brothers, veteran right-wing philanthropists.

But the myths about the Tea Party keep rolling. Again, it’s easy to see why both sides have a stake. Liberals’ first reaction to the Tea Party was to scream “Astroturf!” It should be clear by now that there’s more to it than that—even if much of the money is coming from the usual suspects. Instead, the pendulum has swung in the opposite direction, with many commentators opining that the Tea Party really is completely grass-roots. And that’s just as misleading. If voters really do want a clean sweep of the halls of Congress (and we’ll see just how real the anti-incumbent “wave” really is come November), they should know that the “outsiders” they’re considering are often not as independent as they may seem—which can have both benefits and drawbacks.