Something New on the Mall

Volume 56, Number 16 · October 22, 2009
By Michael Tomasky

We have never seen, at least in the modern history of the United States, a right-wing street-protest movement. Conservatives who oppose Roe v. Wade march on Washington every January 22, the anniversary of that 1973 decision; but aside from that single issue and that single day, the American right over recent decades has, until this summer, carried out its organizing in a comparatively quiet fashion, via mimeograph machine and pamphlet and book and e-mail and text message, and left the streets to the left.

So we have something new in our political life—the summer's apoplectic and bordering-on-violent town-hall meetings, and the large "9/12" rally on Washington's National Mall that drew tens of thousands of people to protest America's descent into "socialism" (or "communism," or, occasionally, "Nazism"). How extreme is this movement, and how seriously should we take it?

The September 12 rally, the culminating (for now) event of the "Tea Party" movement that sprouted to life earlier this year, was organized chiefly by FreedomWorks, a conservative lobbying organization founded in 1984, and supported by nearly thirty conservative organizations, ranging from the well known (Club for Growth, Competitive Enterprise Institute) to the obscure (Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights). It was also promoted heavily on the Fox News Channel, especially by the hard right's new man of the moment, Glenn Beck

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