An amusing little editorial by Andrew Ferguson, in Commentary more or less echoes my initial reservations about the story, and provides more context. It deals with the style of meme-weaving which lends itself to the kind of conspiracism that's become such the stock in trade for this administration and its backers:
The story of the Koch brothers and their involvement in politics, unknown as it is to most readers, is undeniably worth telling. But mere interest isn’t the reaction that ThinkProgress and Mayer, who is as much a party apparatchik as a reporter, meant to provoke. This is five-alarm journalism. “In many places,” Mayer told Maddow in a back-scratching interview, the Tea Party movement “has been considered a spontaneous uprising that came from nowhere.” In fact, it is merely one of the Kochs’ “stealth attacks launched on the federal government, and on the Obama administration in particular.” Maddow summed up the theme of top-down manipulation: “Tea partiers who attended these rallies, particularly the early ones, were essentially instructed to rally against things like climate change by billionaire oil tycoons.”Now, as the editorial points out, the Koch brothers have hardly been shy about their political positions: public financial records, not to mention public appearances...and even one run for VPOTUS on the Libertarian ticket are kinda hard to square with any attributions of attempted stealth! Nonetheless, the brothers' perfectly above-board contributions to a group which shared their clear political proclivities were reported by "Think Progress"as though they were late-night dead drops of envelopes stuffed with unmarked bills and coded instructions.
But such is the perfectly consistent belief system of the collectivist on proud display. The very notion of the spontaneous emergence of a political phenomenon is anathema for those who maintain that humanity can truly advance (or "progress") only through the deliberate action of duly-designated elites.
And, of course, the irony that the heavily Soros-backed Center for American Progress should be the source of this story is apt to be altogether lost on those who've hitched their wagons to the Statist star. Pretext of principles, indeed!
But Star Chambers and Secret Groves have always been the preferred provinces of those who harbor an unnerving skepticism about the capacity of people to come to their own conclusions without being managed from the shadows...or from the Capitol. Since the Tea Parties arose, they have been: catspaws for the GOP, fronts for racist organizations, and Trojan horses for social conservative groups. Now they're a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries. Must be quite a challenge for the CAP "idea factory" to have to re-tool its assembly line so frequently!
One mark of the paranoid style in American politics, Richard Hofstadter wrote in his famous essay, is its concern with “factuality,” a piling up of random details to create a coherence that reality itself can’t provide. Journalism of a certain sort becomes a convenient instrument of the paranoid partisan. “The paranoid’s interpretation of history,” Hofstadter wrote, “is distinctly personal: decisive events are not taken as part of the stream of history, but as the consequences of someone’s will,” an “amoral superman” who “manufactures the mechanism of history, or tries to deflect the normal course of history in an evil way.
A charitable characterization of Progressive thought is that it believes humanity can be remade, perfected by a benevolent and comprehensive manipulation of its environment in order to foster the development of its highest potentials. For one who holds such beliefs, the idea that such large numbers of people can be so thoroughly hoodwinked and herded must at some level be a hopeful one. After all, if they can be prodded over to the Dark Side so easily, then they can be just as easily coaxed back into the light, right?
With the Kochs, the American left gets two amoral supermen in one. Mayer’s article, and the larger campaign it’s a part of, is meant not only to alarm its audience but to soothe it as well. Any Democrat unnerved by the rise of the Tea Party movement will find it comforting to learn that it’s a giant confidence trick. The belief requires both a deep cynicism about one’s fellow citizens and a touching credulity about the ease with which they can be manipulated. All those angry, badly dressed people shouting into megaphones on TV: they’re not evil, they’re just stupid. [Hofstadter link added]
This endless cavalcade of narratives which opponents --on the Right and Left-- have hatched to try and fathom the Tea Parties resembles nothing more than the twitchiness of a species in response to the appearance and adaptive mutation of a rival species. One might imagine the reactions of Neanderthals, perfectly comfy in their lush valleys, to the arrival of those bald, skinny Homo Sapiens with their silly big heads...
[Shamelessly and extensively edited 10/12/10, to correct grievous violations of proper syntax and other late-night crimes against the English language]
Late update (3/29/2011): Here is a lengthy, excellent account of the Koch brothers' history, and the evolution of the ginned-up, Outrageously Outraged campaign to smear and demonize them. Worth a read.