Teabaggers’ convention ‘unraveling’

TEABAGGERS’ CONVENTION ‘UNRAVELING’…. The news for the left hasn’t been especially encouraging for a while, but if it’s any consolation, things aren’t exactly going smoothly for the Tea Party crowd, either.

Tea Party Nation’s first national conference is coming right up — it’s scheduled to begin a week from Saturday — and at this point, “its founders, former sponsors and participants are now trading accusations.”

A Tea Party convention billed as the coming together of the grass-roots groups that began sprouting up around the country a year ago is unraveling as sponsors and participants pull out to protest its expense and express concerns about “profiteering.”

The convention’s difficulties highlight the fractiousness of the Tea Party groups, and the considerable suspicions among their members of anything that suggests the establishment.

The convention, to be held in Nashville in early February, made a splash by attracting big-name politicians. (Former Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska is scheduled to deliver the keynote speech.) But some groups have criticized the cost — $549 per ticket and a $9.95 fee, plus hotel and airfare — as out of reach for the average tea partier. And they have balked at Ms. Palin’s speaking fee, which news reports have put at $100,000, a figure that organizers will not confirm or deny.

Late Sunday, the National Precinct Alliance, which seeks a right-wing takeover of the GOP from the precinct level up, withdrew its sponsorship of the event. The announcement came on the heels of the American Liberty Alliance and American Majority, two far-right outfits, pulling their support.

Complicating matters, the event has apparently spawned a counter-event for like-minded conservatives: “[A]bout 50 local tea party leaders from across Tennessee are planning to attend a sort of counter-convention caucus set for this Saturday in Nashville, while some activists are discussing staging protests outside next month’s convention, which will be held at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Convention Center.”

I still think these fissures matter, and go beyond just anger over excessive ticket prices. To reiterate a point from a couple of weeks ago, there are some pretty fundamental questions it seems the “movement” needs to address.

* What is it, exactly? Are Teabaggers a grassroots “movement,” a marketing enterprise, a new activist organization, a political party, or something else altogether? Or some combination? It’s unclear.

* What does it want? Do these activists intend to strengthen a wing of the Republican Party, or fight from outside the GOP structure?

* Where does it want to go? Some Tea Party folks are libertarian-minded, with an emphasis on the size of government. Others are religious-right-style activists, concerned about abortion and gays. Who’s behind the wheel? Will there be two Tea Parties?

* What does it intend to offer? The Tea Party gang wants government to cut spending, but it doesn’t say where. It wants policymakers to reduce the deficit, but it doesn’t say how. Activists take all kinds of positions on all kinds of issues, but most of them seem misplaced and confused about basic details. Is there some kind of policy platform in the works, or will they stick to vague right-wing generalities?

These details matter. And given the divisions over the increasingly-bizarre National Tea Party Convention, the fissures may not be resolved anytime soon.