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The Nation's Katrina vanden Heuvel Gives Credit to Tea Partiers

1:10 PM, Apr 24, 2009 • By MARY KATHARINE HAM
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In a shocking turn of events, The Nation magazine's liberal editor has joined nefarious corporate backers and Fox News' dishonest trumpeters in giving credence to the utterly inauthentic, "Astroturf" Tax Day Tea Parties, which drew 250-300,000 protesters on April 15, around the country.

At the Nation's assessment of Obama's first 100 days, held at the Washington Hilton Wednesday, panel moderator John Nichols offered a derisive aside about conservatives in a question for Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel. "They're holding tea parties," he said, with a dismissive wave of his hand, which elicited a light smattering of giggles from the audience.

vanden Heuvel could have easily grabbed the baton and run with it, regaling her sympathetic audience with tales of Dick Armey orders from on high, delivered to seething crowds of racist "teabaggers." To her credit, she didn't. Instead, she gave a nod to the idea that the media (which she pegged as naturally sympathetic to such right-wing movements) unduly promoted the events, but added this:

"I think we need to think hard about these tea parties. You had people in the streets. You had thousands of people in the streets."

She likened these "glimpses of discontent" to the "politics on the street" of another economic downturn- the Great Depression. There was a hint of warning and worry as she told progressive activists, somewhat unfamiliar with operating in a more sympathetic capital, that they still have to "find sources of power outside Washington to bring to bear on Washington," implying that the tea parties had done just that.

Nichols echoed her muted concern later in the panel as he voiced annoyance that "conservatives are now considered the populists," and editorial board member Deepak Bhargava went farther in his assessment of the progressive posture in the age of Obama power:

"I think we have an organizing problem... We will get exactly what we organize for and not an iota more," he said, decrying both the tendency to act as cheerleaders for Obama or to make the progressively perfect the enemy of Obama's good.

Going forward, there's great uncertainty about what the Tea Party movement can achieve (although they're already showing results in some states). But if even Nation editors are conceding the basic authenticity and potential power of the tea parties, and using them to remind progressives of their responsibility to organize effectively, isn't the case closed on whether the movement matters?