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September 1st, 2011

The Sad Commercialization of the Tea Party

The Tea Party Express rolled into Des Moines late Wednesday afternoon, looking more like a carnival than a bus tour. Along for the ride was a whole contingent of vendors hocking all sorts of apparel, artwork, bumper stickers, coffee mugs and even a Dr. Seuss-style book.

The vendors and Tea Party Express staffers greatly outnumbered the crowd at Water Works Park. Despite the carnival-like atmosphere, the event was completely devoid of anything that makes carnivals fun. Instead, the tea party carnies were trying to make a buck off the crowd. Approximately 50 Iowans joined the swarm of media and vendors, primarily to listen to a speech from Ames Straw Poll winner Michele Bachmann.

The event was scheduled to get underway at 5pm. However, the Tea Party Express crew was still setting up the stage and sound equipment at 5:20. A couple of minutes later, a lady from the traveling troupe began literally yelling into the microphone. She was attempting to fire up the small crowd. Instead, she might have ruptured several eardrums.

The lady followed her shrill introduction with an over-the-top performance of our national anthem, which was clearly more suited for an “American Idol” audition. Soon thereafter, Michele Bachmann was introduced.

The Minnesota congresswoman stuck to familiar themes of economic development and cutting taxes during her 17 minute speech. In a departure from most Bachmann campaign events in the state, she did not mention she was born in Iowa. Perhaps Bachmann has finally figured playing the Iowa card has worn out its usefulness.

Two and a half weeks removed from her Straw Poll victory, this event was useful for Bachmann only for the free media coverage. There were no new votes to be gained at this event, as most of the attendees were either Bachmann supporters or already aligned with another candidate. If anyone was undecided prior to the event, the hokey atmosphere likely failed to sway those onto Bachmann’s side.

Additionally, drawing a crowd of only 50 is unimpressive for a candidate that should be riding a huge wave of momentum. Bachmann lingered for several minutes to shake hands and pose for pictures with attendees. However, most of those who crowded around her were part of the traveling Tea Party Express carnival, not Iowans.

Ever since the Tea Party burst onto the national scene three years ago, politicians, media outlets and entrepreneurs have tried to exploit the rage of angry voters. That seems to be the case for the dozen vendors travelling with the Tea Party Express.

The first Tea Party rallies were cool. They were organic. They were completely devoid of politicians and moneymaking schemes. The voter anger is still there. But some of that anger should be directed at those who have corrupted the Tea Party name for their own means. Wednesday at Water Works Park in Des Moines was one of those moments. The Tea Party Express traveling t-shirt vendors roll into Cedar Rapids and Davenport on Thursday.

Photo by Dave Davidson,

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About the Author

Kevin Hall
Kevin Hall brings almost two decades of journalistic experience to TheIowaRepublican. Starting in college as a radio broadcaster, Hall eventually became a television anchor/reporter for stations in North Carolina, Missouri, and Iowa. During the 2007 caucus cycle, Hall changed careers and joined the political realm. He was the northwest Iowa field director for Fred Thompson's presidential campaign. Hall helped Terry Branstad return to the governor's office by organizing southwest Iowa for Branstad's 2010 campaign. Hall serves as a reporter/columnist for

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